Managers resort to autocratic practices
With the desperate state of the UK economy, should managers resort to autocratic practices to survive the recession? Faced with the whole world’s economic downturn, many organisations in the UK are subject to various difficulties. A survey by consultancy Pentacle (2008) implies that almost 70 percent of managers do not know how to react to the changes and challenges of the economic crisis. The economic crises requires managers to be more focused than ever to ensure their organisations survive the recession. Which managerial style may be most appropriate is to be discussed in the essay.
The essay first discusses the difference between management and leadership, then it defines autocratic practices and considers their implication in the past and present, their benefits and disadvantages. It considers alternative styles of leadership and evaluates the influence of different managerial styles on individuals and groups and on their motivation at work. The evaluation will support the essay’s judgement about whether or not managers should resort to autocratic practices. The difference between leadership and management is hard to define.
“I have never been fond ofdistinguishing between leadership and management: they overlap and you need both qualities”, states Fullan (2001, cited in Mullins, 2005: 285). There is definitely a close relationship between them, and to successfully manage people, one needs to exercise the role of leadership. Whereas Mintzberg (1973) assumes that leadership is part of the managerial role, Bennis (1989) and Kotter (1990) both separate leadership and management into two distinctive subjects (see Wilson, 2004). Leadership is focused on people, emphasises a personal and active attitude to achieve goals, and
does not necessarily take place within hierarchical structures. Management tends to be rather impersonal, focused on strategies, structures, and systems. (Mullins, 2005) We speak of autocratic practices or an authoritarian style of leadership when “the manager alone exercises decision-making and authority for determining policy, procedures, the allocation of work and has control of rewards or punishment” (Mullins, 2005: 1051).
Thus, the manager obtains unlimited decision-making power. As the focus of power lies with the manager alone, all group interactions move towards him. Steve Jobs, CEO for Apple Inc. , uses autocratic managerial practices, and very successfully so. He is described as a “powerful, demanding [and] charismatic figure” (Cruikshank, 2005: 167). Although he applies autocratic practices, employees at Apple Inc. are encouraged to be innovative, thus making out the success of the company. Another person who made use of autocratic practices is Margaret Thatcher. Faced with economic difficulties, she chose an autocratic manner of conducting politics, and successfully brought the UK out of recession.
(King, 2002) Lack of consultation with employees is certainly one of the great disadvantages of autocratic management in many organisations. It implies a high risk when managers trust only their own subjective experience, knowledge and understanding in the decision-making process. A wrong decision may have fatal consequences, and is arguably more likely when the decision-making power lies with one individual. Kast and Rosenzweig (1985) defined “management” as “mental work performance by people in an organizational context” (cited in: Wilson, 2004: 127).
We distinguish between five main types of management styles: autocratic leadership, and democratic leadership, with subtypes such as participative leadership and laissez-faire leadership (Carnall, 2003). The laissez-faire style gives freedom of action to employees, as the manager choses to interfere little or not at all, but is available on demand. Under democratic management the focus is on group interaction, it empowers employees as leadership functions are shared between managers and team members, providing groups with the necessary decision-making power which enables them to
function well. Similarly, participative leaders consult with workers and involve their views, which is seen as appropriate in most cultures. (Mullins, 2005) Managerial styles can also be described with Blake’s and McCanse’s leadership grid. Managerial styles can be either transactional or transformational, with the former being linked to autocratic and the latter to democratic management practices. Transformational management is more concerned with people, it is about creating a sense of mission, delegating, and treating employees as individuals. (Linstead et al, 2009).
Contrariwise, transactional leadership focuses strongly on an individual’s effort and achievements and rewards employees according thereto. The grid distinguishes between ‘impoverishes management’, ‘middle of the road management’, ‘country club management’, ‘team management’ and ‘authority compliance’. The latter two are of interest for the analysis of the essay. ‘Team management’ is characterised by a strong concern for both people and production. This is considered as the most desirable, optimum style of management. The most efficient way of organising and managing people describes the ‘authority compliance’.
Work conditions are arranged in a way which lets “human elements interfere to a minimum degree” to ensure efficiency. (Linstead et al, 2009: 485). Lewin (1930) claims that the democratic leadership style is more effective than autocratic practice in many situations. However, the more appropriate management style may depend on a company’s situation as well as on its employees. Wilson also argues that a large number of studies points towards positive organisational performance under democratic systems, and therefore “demonstrate [s] the efficacy of democratic as opposed to autocratic systems of management”. (2004: 241)
The essay now evaluates the impacts of autocratic practices on individuals and groups, which may help to explain why democratic leadership turns out to be more effective than autocratic leadership. The autocratic management style gives decision-making power to one person, thus the employees have no real input. Employees can become very dependent on their leaders and they lack the information, support and confidence to act on their own initiative (Carnall, 2007).
However, Henry (1979) points out that firms which operate in rapidly changing environments, where quick decision making is essential, may benefit from and successfully apply an autocratic style. However, under autocratic management, there is a risk of increased staff turnover. As autocratic managers frequently ignore the opinions of their subordinates, employees are likely to feel unvalued and this may cause them to leave their jobs. Lewin’s research in the 1930s focused on organisations under autocratic management and discovered considerable aggression amongst members. The output tended to be high when a manager was around, but dropped in his absence. Quality levels were low due to lack of motivation among the employees.