Autocracy – Definition

Cite this article as:"Autocracy – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated February 24, 2019, last accessed August 10, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/autocracy-definition/.

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Autocracy (Government) Definition

A system of government in which one person has the supreme power to make all kinds of decisions and rules. In modern times such leadership is referred to as dictatorship or absolute monarchism.

A Little More on What is Autocracy

Decisions made are not subject to change by any external factors but is concentrated on the hands of one person. This autocracy system, which is implemented in the political, economic and social field, originated from ancient Greece. The leaders do not report to anyone as no one holds accountable for their decisions.

The term autocracy is divided into two from Greek words and thus has a meaning, with auto referring to “by itself” while Kratos is the “power” held by a single leader. Therefore, autocracy means a leader has no lawful restrictions or control by popular people when he is making use of his political powers. This term autocracy is mostly used in political science.

A leader who seeks complete obedience without question from his subjects is known as an autocrat. This is because he practices the use of absolute power. In modern times countries such as Spain, Sweden, England, Holland or Monaco exist, where aristocracies have supreme sovereignty exist even though parliaments, Presidents and Prime Ministers limit their power. In early times such a system of government was known as despotism and power were used to cruelly oppress other people. Empires such as Byzantine were subjected to such governance.

Autocracy is practiced in a different way in a dictatorship and authoritarian systems since the government can take control of a certain region and have one person govern the area with supreme power. This person with all the power will either be a political, military or economic leader. The government will most likely acquire complete control of that region through military coups and not legal means of taking power. The old European is an example of absolute monarchies and dictatorships.

An autocracy is thus a strict form of governance with a number of rules. Political parties that oppose the government are prohibited as the power of the leader is supreme. Furthermore, civil groups or discussions advocating for rights and change are not allowed. The government, therefore, operates on cruelty and oppression in order to suppress any opposition. This helps them maintain power and control all governing bodies in a state.

However, it important to note that autocracy does not just come from a historical way of government but can be introduced to a democratic society. This happens when a leader enters a political office through legal means such as democratic elections but then he clings on power. He then refuses to leave office and prohibits the formation of opposition parties while oppressing those who do not support his regime. This mostly happens when a country is unstable or going through economic difficulties.

The autocratic system of government favors the public sector since the government will put more resources and administration to only the areas he has control of. The economic aspect of the private sector will, therefore, go down since it will be restricted by the government rules and will not be able to implement its privacy policies. Furthermore, state laws will oppress their private circles as their freedom to work is limited.

Therefore, autocracy will lead to a state of monopoly in the economic sector. The private sector will be limited, and the public sector will take lead with similar ideas and policies. Lack of diversity by the public sector leads to a relaxed business mood and thus the completion in the market will be low.

References for Autocracy

Academic Research on Autocracy

  • Autocratic leadership in social dilemmas: A threat to group stability, Van Vugt, M., Jepson, S. F., Hart, C. M., & De Cremer, D. (2004). Journal of experimental social psychology, 40(1), 1-13. This paper looked at small social dilemma groups and how leadership styles have been implemented alongside their impacts. The results in two experimented groups showed that group members preferred democratic leaders to autocratic leaders. This is because they would leave autocratic headed groups and join democratic groups. These people left the groups even though sometimes positive results would be achieved by the autocratic groups. Their decisions were thus influenced by leadership styles and not the outcomes of the leadership style. This made the author conclude that leadership styles are important and autocratic leadership will not help the public as it would result in revolutions and conflicts.
  • Affective and motivational consequences of leader self-sacrifice: The moderating effect of autocratic leadership, De Cremer, D. (2006). The Leadership Quarterly, 17(1), 79-93. This research questioned the behavior of autocratic leaders and how they can instill a self-sacrifice skill in them. This skill will then determine the emotive and motivational feedbacks of the people he leads. The results, which were obtained from a laboratory experiment and a scenario experiment show that groups will be comfortable with a leader who exhibits self-sacrifice skills but is not an autocrat. It also shows that such kind of a leader will have more effective results. From the laboratory experiment, it was seen that the emotional reactions are what motivated the group to support and work with the leadership. The study suggests that more research should be done on the great leadership that comes with self-sacrifice. Furthermore, the psychology of leaders, which makes them behave in a certain way should also be studied.  and their behaviors
  • Gender, leadership style, and subordinate satisfaction: An experiment, Kushell, E., & Newton, R. (1986). Sex Roles, 14(3-4), 203-209. Gender and leadership are topics that should be studied more since women are climbing up the ladder as leaders. The way subordinate staff react to women in management ranks is thus also a matter of research. The research has been conducted by this paper and it shows that women are a rise in management positions. However, this has not affected the satisfaction of subordinate staffs as much as females disliked autocratic leaders that males.
  • A meta-analytic review of the productivity and satisfaction of democratic and autocratic leadership, Gastil, J. (1994). Small Group Research, 25(3), 384-410. Research and books have not been able to address and give integrated results of member fulfillment and group efficiency when subjected to a democratic or autocratic type of leadership. This is even as there are so many research books showing the effects of democracy and autocracy in work and business areas. This book has taken the initiative to do so by providing integration with the tool of meta-analysis. However, it does not give clear results due to the difference in the complexity of tasks and study setting. It ends up concluding that a democratic or autocratic system has no much influence on efficiency. In cases where it finds a relationship between democracy and group gratification, the author dismisses it as the influence of task complication. It suggests the manipulation of democracy so as to get clear results.
  • Affective and motivational consequences of leader self-sacrifice: The moderating effect of autocratic leadership, De Cremer, D. (2006). The Leadership Quarterly, 17(1), 79-93. This research questioned the behavior of autocratic leaders and how they can instill a self-sacrifice skill in them. This skill will then determine the emotive and motivational feedbacks of the people he leads. The results, which were obtained from a laboratory experiment and a scenario experiment show that groups will be comfortable with a leader who exhibits self-sacrifice skills but is not an autocrat. It also shows that such kind of a leader will have more effective results. From the laboratory experiment, it was seen that the emotional reactions are what motivated the group to support and work with the leadership. The study suggests that more research should be done on the great leadership that comes with self-sacrifice. Furthermore, the psychology of leaders, which makes them behave in a certain way should also be studied.  and their behaviors.
  • Impact of leadership style on organizational performance: a case study of Nigerian banks, Ojokuku, R. M., Odetayo, T. A., & Sajuyigbe, A. S. (2012). American Journal of Business and Management, 1(4), 202-207. The study was conducted in selected banks in Ibadan Nigeria and is studied how performance in an organization can be influenced by leadership style. It was done in form of an organized questionnaire where sixty (60) respondents were selected using the purposive sampling technique. The researchers made use of Pearson product-moment as the relationship between styles of leadership and performance in the organization was done in a correlated manner. Additionally, they used Regression analysis to identify if performances and workers were affected by the type of leadership. With 23% variance of performance, the study found that organizational performance can be predicted using leadership styles. The leadership styles and organization performance also showed a positive and negative relationship with each other. The study suggested that Banks management should integrate democracy and transformational leadership in order to remain relevant in a setting that is widely competitive.
  • Rehabilitation agency leadership style: Impact on subordinates’ job satisfaction, Packard, S. H., & Kauppi, D. R. (1999). Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 43(1), 5-11. This study conducted a survey of one hundred and five rehabilitation employees. Its aim was to identify if their job satisfaction and how they regarded their job environment was affected by the type of leadership they had. The study concluded that service delivery is affected by leadership styles.
  • Leadership style and incentives, Rotemberg, J. J., & Saloner, G. (1993). Management Science, 39(11), 1299-1318. This is a study that looks into the best leadership style of a firm in relation to its environment. It ensures that it does not give motivations to the subordinates directly by using a model that looks into firms and managers whose contracts are not complete. It found that motivations given to subordinates are affected by the personality of leaders, leadership style, and the organizational cultures of the firm. It also found that shareholders stand to benefit more when they use empathetic leaders. Such leaders ensure there is an innovation by using the participatory style of leading since other people will be free to give their ideas. A firm which is short of innovative ideas is usually headed by an autocratic or selfish leader.
  • Leadership styles as predictors of self‐reported and observed workplace bullying, Hoel, H., Glasø, L., Hetland, J., Cooper, C. L., & Einarsen, S. (2010). British Journal of Management, 21(2), 453-468. Bullying research has ignored the integration between leadership styles and bullying or intimidation. This study looks into instances of bullying at work and how the subordinate rate the behaviors of some of their leaders. The nationwide study was done in Great Britain and involved 5288 respondents. It addressed the psychosocial issues at work and used randomness and representativeness as the sampling process. Non-contingent punishment was the toughest analyst of bullying in terms of apparent exposure while observed bullying was characterized by autocratic leadership. However, all four leadership styles had instances of bullying. It was a surprise that bullying was related to non-conditional punishment and impulsive style of leadership when more people thought bullying only came from autocratic leadership. In the impulsive leadership, leaders give punishment in their own ways regardless of the subordinates’ performance. Furthermore, self-reported and observed bullying was mostly forecasted by laissex-faire leadership. The study concluded that leadership styles contribute to bullying even though intricate.
  • Self-uncertainty and support for autocratic leadership, Rast III, D. E., Hogg, M. A., & Giessner, S. R. (2013). Self and Identity, 12(6), 635-649. This article bases its argument on the social identity theory of leadership and uncertainty-identity theory. The theories imply that autocratic leadership is supported by workers who lack self-certainty and abhorred by those who have more confidence in their work. The author surveyed 215 organizational employees to understand the consequence of self-uncertainty and on what percentage they would rate the autocratic nature of their leader in terms of support. The study confirmed that participants who were self-certain supported the non-autocratic leader over the autocratic. However, the self-uncertain participants were comfortable working with autocratic than the non-autocratic leader. The article also discusses the role uncertainty plays in leadership with the consequences of the uncertainty-identity theory.

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