Social Good

How to Handle Autocratic Leadership

When your boss is extremely demanding – intimidating even – and expects you to play solely by his/her rules, you have a problem on your hands.

Because no matter how much you love your job or how committed you are to organizational success, an autocratic boss is almost always a mood-killer, filling the air with tension and stressing you out. Just one human being who is breathing down your neck or giving you no space to make your own decisions can compel you to quit a job that you love so much. No surprises then that autocratic leadership has an adverse impact on employee turnover. Will you be the next to put down your paper and blame it on your boss?

You don’t have to. You can handle the situation and even gain from it. Here are some ideas to ponder over.

Don’t make it about ego

Autocratic bosses have big egos and cannot see their own flaws. But you may be taking your boss’s jibes and dictatorial behavior personally too. The very first and most important thing is to not let your ego get in the way. If you take criticisms to heart, it will only cause you more pain. You may become passive-aggressive, which can spawn a number of other issues. Your productivity may be affected; you may be quick to judge your boss’s intentions; and your colleagues may find your behavior concerning or unnecessary.

Attempting to change your boss is futile

In all likelihood, your boss did not have a personality transplant overnight. Autocratic leaders have adopted their style owing to a necessity or always been that way and never received the well-intentioned advice to moderate their behavior. The government sector, and some industries, including manufacturing, aerospace and restaurants are believed to lend themselves well to autocratic leadership. So if your boss is a regular Genghis Khan or Leona Helmsley, and he/she has been installed in a leadership position in recognition of his/her talent and capabilities, you may not be in a position to resist.

On the other hand, if your boss is like Donald Trump, whose close confidantes have shied away from rectifying his inappropriate outbursts, you will need more than a magic spell to change his behavior.

Take a heads-down approach

Focus on the nice and exciting aspects of your job. A challenging project, the opportunity to learn a new technology, your amazing colleagues and the bi-weekly corporate yoga classes. Purpose-oriented autocratic leadership is concerned only about getting the job done; it does not care for emotions or etiquette. If you only think about contributing your best, earning the respect of your colleagues and getting handsome monetary rewards, your boss can stop being a big pain in the backside and move to a lower scale of annoyance, like your neighbor’s yappy dog, a possessive ex-boyfriend, or your sometimes insufferable mother-in-law.

It cannot go on for too long

Not many leaders, regardless of whether they follow an autocratic or a laissez faire leadership style, are committed to constant self-improvement by taking a healthy curiosity in everything around them and soliciting others’ feedback from time to time. When leaders become careless or unbearably authoritative, people will take cognizance and react in different ways. Some may take  advantage of it, others may wait until such time as he/she gets fired. Poor results or rumblings within the organization will force senior executives or the board – depending upon the role of the underperforming/toxic leader – to take swift action.

Use bureaucratic leadership as an incentive to move to a better organization

Your enemy can serve as one of your biggest motivators to succeed. Set a deadline within which to move out of your current organization to an even better one. Invest your time in enhancing your skills and marketability – it will help you take your mind off the nasty stuff and stay attuned to professional development and brighter prospects.

Be smart in your dealings

Autocratic leaders like to stay on top of every detail. Communicating important and less important issues and developments to them can satisfy their craving for power and control.

Don’t be afraid to suggest an idea that contradicts your boss’s, but think it through and propose it only if you believe it to be better and more effective. And definitely suggest it if you feel like your boss is making a big mistake – even if you are overruled, your wisdom will be recalled by your boss and colleague.

Autocratic bosses are not into lengthy discussions and debates. Most of the time, they have already made up their mind about what needs to be done and seldom entertain a range of views and perspectives. They may not exactly wish to be hands-on with the people engagement side of things, a tendency you can leverage for your own benefit. Offer to do the tasks your boss cannot be bothered with, but must be done for the sake of teamwork and project progress. He/She may delegate these tasks to you, but don’t expect a thank you, rather use it as an opportunity to enhance your influence within your team!

What to do when your autocratic boss has come straight from hell

If your boss is a bully, you need to take action quickly before things escalate out of control. Assess judiciously by looking for these common tactics used by bullies:

  • Non-verbal intimidation, including glaring and staring
  • Falsely accusing you of mistakes you haven’t made
  • Screaming and flying into a rage with the intention to humiliate you
  • Starting destructive rumors about you or failing to stop the same
  • Exhibiting prejudice towards you but not your co-workers
  • Singling you out each time for the most demanding tasks and constantly dumping most of the workload on you

Evaluate the possible reasons for the unfair treatment being meted out to you. If your boss is not justified in being unnecessarily harsh to you, seek inputs from colleagues on handling the situation. Don’t react; maintain your focus on excelling at work – it may deter your boss against targeting you.

Despite your best intentions and attitudes, your boss may continue with his bullying behavior. This is the time to report him/her to a higher-level manager or your human resources manager. It may be an exhausting exercise, but you will be setting an example for anyone else who has been mentally tortured by their boss, and compel the organization to take necessary action.

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