The autocratic leadership style is the most common employed in change leadership. Perhaps this is because most of today’s managers were developed by leaders who led with such a style. While this is slowly changing, McKinsey & Company’s research still holds true: around 70% of change projects fail.

In this article, we examine the limitations of an autocratic leadership style, and why successful change needs transformational leadership in the age of social media.

Technology has transformed the information society

People are more informed today than they have ever been. The social media age allows people to connect and question with immediate results. Autocratic leadership relies on outdated notions, including:

  • Leaders know best
  • Only leaders know organizational goals
  • Success depends upon controlling employee behavior
  • Employees have little or no desire to contribute to the change effort
  • An alteration of change plans is a failure of leadership, because the change could not have been properly planned

The autocratic approach to leadership collides with the more informed society. Employees no longer accept that a leader knows best. Functions are compartmentalized, and people understand the value of expertise in their specific sphere of responsibility. They understand that a leader’s positon is not to be expert at every facet of a business. People want to be more involved with strategy, planning, and solution-finding.

The limitations of autocratic leadership during change

When considering autocracy in leadership through a change initiative, we see that it limits the potential for successful change in several ways. For example, it:

  • Limits the opportunity for employee engagement
  • Limits the potential for individual development
  • Increases the potential for resistance to change
  • Inhibits the development of an adaptable change process
  • Prohibits the leader from making changes to the implementation plan
  • Reduces consideration to human resource issues, including communication and resistance to change

These limitations are in direct contradiction to the base requirements to make effective transformational change. For example, the sheer scale of such change demands that attitudes and behaviors adapt to the change. These are embedded in organizational culture. Change also needs to be agile, reacting to the adoption of new processes. As these are iterated to perfection, the leader will find that he or she needs to implement adjustments to the change plan to steer the course toward successful outcomes.

The key is to encourage participation in change

For transformational change to be successful, it is imperative that people are engaged in the change project. The leader will actively encourage employees to become stakeholders in the change project, creating a cultural shift that embraces change. To be this leader you must:

  • Engage with employees and clearly communicate the need for change, painting a picture of the future vision
  • Encourage employees to provide input and discuss the future vison
  • Involve people in the design of the change plan
  • Engage people in the process of change, and encourage them to participate in cross-functional teams
  • Encourage people to come forward about change that pertains to their area of expertise or work environment

For autocratic leaders, the above bullet points will be difficult to adopt. They are contrary to his or her natural leadership style. Yet to create the cultural shift that is needed to embed sustainable change, these are exactly the methods and strategies required by the change leader.

Autocratic leaders will miss the alarm bells that ring loudly throughout the change process. Consequently, they steer relentlessly toward failure. The transformational leader not only hears these alarm bells, but seeks a cooperative solution that is owned by the team.

Fortunately, transformational leadership is a learned skill. To discover how a Change Agent Bootcamp and coaching in consulting and facilitating will help your organization and leaders produce lasting change, contact Primeast today. 

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