I continue to wonder about and debate the question of whether autocratic leadership is the best form to use in the Emerging Markets.
The mere mention of autocratic leadership provokes the many who say it is the least desirable style when it comes to building trusting relationships. They hypothesise that when one person is in complete control no one is permitted to make any suggestions or offer any opinions, no matter how it may benefit the group. In other words, autocratic leadership equates to command and control.
Although many people immediately assume and even argue autocratic leadership is a bad style and should not be used, is it really that bad? Of course, it is when taken to the extreme form of dictatorship.
But we need to be careful not to confuse autocratic leadership with totalitarianism. In those extreme instances the leader does not involve others in the decision-making process and may resort to force, manipulation, or even threats to accomplish their goals.
But, when autocratic leadership is used well it allows for rapid decision making at the top and unwavering discipline and efficient execution at the bottom.
Just consider the Steve Jobs era at Apple - operating like a well-drilled army with the joint chiefs on top, the privates down below and a clear chain of command.
We can look across the region and see excellent examples of the collective benefits of autocratic leadership. In reality most family businesses, which make up 80 - 90 per cent of all businesses in the world, rely on the autocratic style of leading. In the workplace there are some real benefits to an autocratic style, especially in fast-growth and emerging markets that are ambiguous, volatile, uncertain and rapidly changing. When operating conditions call for urgent action, the autocratic style of leadership may be the best style to enact.
Interestingly, many individuals have already worked for an autocratic leader and therefore have little trouble adapting to that style.
Employees who are working in the private sector for the first time usually prefer an autocratic style and like the clarity that comes with being told exactly what to do. There is a preference for a clear and strong approach to leadership but not for a dictatorial style.
Leadership is essential for achieving results. And, in more complex and dynamic environments, leadership has a great impact (certainly this region qualifies for being complex and dynamic).
You should think about the benefits of strong leadership and where the balance is between success and totalitarianism.
In rapidly moving business environments such as in the GCC, autocratic leadership reduces wasted time by focusing the employees on delivery where they are expected to do a clearly defined job and to do it as well as they can. When the leader makes a decision and gives and order, it is expected to be fulfilled with little questioning.
Practising autocratic leadership is juxtaposed to what most leadership texts espouse "good" modern leadership, which is supposed to be open, empowering and collaborative.
This leads me to my continued debate as to which is better.
The scholars say one thing, the popular opinion agrees with them but the results point in a different direction.
Is the proof in the pudding of autocratic leadership?
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor and the author of The CEO Shift. He is the founder and managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre