Leadership styles Part 1: Authoritarian leadership

This series of four articles will explore four different leadership styles and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 1 focuses on authoritarian, or dictator leadership.

In this four part Michigan State University Extension series, we will explore four different leadership styles: laissez faire, democratic, servant and dictator. This is the first article in the series and will explore these different leadership styles when working with a younger audience and how the style can affect a group in accomplishing a goal. Part 2 discusses democratic leadership, Part 3 focuses on laissez-faire leadership and Part 4 examines servant leadership.

Aside from the four major leadership styles, there are others that could be researched as well including: transactional, transformational, charismatic, bureaucratic and autocratic. It is important for individuals in leadership roles to know what style works best for a given situation and for the group they are leading.

The first type of leadership is authoritarian, or dictator leadership. An authoritarian leader rules with total power. This style offers no opportunity for participant input; the leader makes all the decisions, critical knowledge is kept to themselves and they lay down the law. Examples of this leadership style are seen in the military, mafia or a street gang. Authoritarian leadership can also be present in situations where there is a “power clique” in which clique members see themselves as having a higher status than others and believe they must give orders to get things done.

When an urgent decision needs to be made, it is often most effective to use a dictatorial (authoritarian) leadership style. With urgent decisions, there is no time for participant input or creativity in problem-solving, as there is in other leadership styles. This style can be also effective when a group has gotten out of control and is making no effort to complete a particular goal. If the safety of the group or others is a main factor when urgent decisions need to be made, or when its critical things be done in a certain way, dictatorial leadership is a great style to implement.

Reflecting on the dictatorship leadership, German dictator Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union may come to mind. Some youth may even say their coach or a parent at home are dictators. However, by knowing how and when an authoritarian leadership style is needed can help youth reflect on other leaders that use this style: what about a doctor in an emergency unit, coaches at the crucial moment of a game or parents in a life threatening situation? By knowing when dictatorship in needed, youth can choose the correct leadership style necessary.

For youth interested in learning more about leadership styles, Michigan 4-H Youth Development recently released a new and exciting global leadership curriculum: 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World (4H1643). The 4-H global leadership curriculum will assist volunteers, parents/guardians, professionals and other youth educators in developing the knowledge and skills they need to become youth leaders in a global environment. The 138-page publication is available in print and electronic versions at the MSU Extension Bookstore (the electronic version is shipped on a USB drive).

One of the activities offered in this curriculum is called Lead in Style: Duct Tape Sculptures. This citizenship activity provides a hands-on learning opportunity for team-building and can help participants learn more about the four common leadership styles. For more information about other 4-H learning opportunities and 4-H programs, contact your local county MSU Extension Office. 

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