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Why Authoritarian Leadership Isn’t Working in the Digital Age

Leadership styles are evolving.

The workforce of today demands engagement, coaching, collaboration and innovation. In response, effective leaders are now required to develop employees, build teams and create a rich culture that embraces new ideas and risk-taking.

A “My way or the highway” authoritarian approach doesn’t always work anymore.

As companies compete for employees in the digital age, organizations are forced to adapt and put leaders in place who will motivate and retain workers and move the business forward.

Changing Leadership Models in the Digital Age

According to the 2017 Human Capital Trends report and survey by Deloitte, companies need digital leaders much different than those of generations past.

“The concept of ‘leader as a hero’ no longer scales. Highly effective companies such as Google, Lyft, WL Gore, Mastercard, and Atlassian look at leadership as a team effort and recruit leaders who can work together, and complement each other, and function as a team,” authors note in a 2017 article published by Deloitte.

Traditional hierarchical models which may have relied heavily on a single leader who dictated what employees should see, hear and do are no longer relevant.

“A leader of the future is more like a community manager rather than an authoritarian,” according to a 2016 article published in the World Economic Forum.

The Pitfalls of Authoritarian Leadership in the Digital Age

In previous decades, authoritarian leaders helped maintain order by enforcing rules, and dictating policies and procedures. Those traits may be viewed negatively by today’s workers.

Authoritarian leaders work best in situations where control is essential, there is little room for error and leaders are working with inexperienced followers or employees. But to lead in the digital age means throwing out old thinking, listening to employees and being transparent throughout the organization. These essential qualities are uncommon among authoritarian leaders. 

Merging Leadership Styles in the Digital Age

There is no single leadership style that dictates the success of a company in the digital age. Rather, blending characteristics and implementing certain styles based on the situation is key.

There are several styles of leadership, including authoritarian, democratic, laissez-faire and more. Being an effective leader in the digital age may mean combining one or more styles or shifting from one style to the next.

For example, democratic leaders encourage exchanging ideas, view everyone with an equally valued voice and foster team unity. They work best when an organization’s direction is unclear and the leader needs to seek wisdom from the group. They are not as efficient during times of crises when decisions need to be made quickly.

Laiseez-faire leaders can be best described as “hands-off” leaders who assume employees are self-motivated and accountable. They work best when followers are trustworthy, skilled and take pride in their work. They are not as efficient when employees or followers need feedback in order to improve. Negative outcomes include missing deadlines or a reduction in quality of work.

Learning and understanding different types of leadership styles can help leaders adapt to organizational changes and be effective where it matters the most.

Companies are changing, and knowledge is a vital component to making an impact.

According to the fifth annual Deloitte Human Capital Trends report, “90% of organizations of companies are redesigning their organizations to be more dynamic, team-centric, and connected. These changes require not just new operating models, but a different type of leadership to mobilize and execute these models.”

Merging different styles may better position the leaders of tomorrow, today.

Learn more about leadership styles here.

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