Detoxing from Autocratic Leadership

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Adjusting to a new leader can be challenging – especially when the leadership styles are polar opposites.

An autocratic leader is usually somebody who’s very direct, perhaps abrasive and abrupt. More and more companies are making the tough decision to replace their most autocratic leaders with more participative leaders who use a coaching approach instead of a command and control, power-oriented approach.

After an organization makes the decision to replace an autocratic leader with a participative manager, it takes time for the culture to respond. Share on X

Think of when a patio stone is laid over grass. After a while, the grass will die off. Then, when you lift up the patio stone, the grass doesn’t immediately spring back to life. It takes a while for it to seed and populate, but eventually the grass will grow back. 

In the same way when you change from an autocratic to participative leadership approach, it causes a positive change in the employee behavior, performance, and morale and attitude. But it does take a bit of time for everyone to detoxify, adjust and to see positive growth. 

If your employees have been micromanaged by an autocratic boss, they likely have lost some of their skill and motivation to make decisions and solve problems for themselves. They have gotten used to being told what to do. When a more participative manager gives them the freedom to make decisions, they might not know what to do at first. The good news is that the vast majority of employees will enjoy their new freedom. But it can take a couple of months for them to fully step into those new-found freedoms. 

As a more participative manager, you’ll find yourself giving people permission to make the right call. When they see that you, as a leader, aren’t going to second-guess them or punish them for making simple mistakes, they’ll begin to trust you and become more accountable. 

There may be a few individuals who thrived under the autocratic leader and are unable to succeed in a more participative culture. Those employees will likely find themselves either looking for a job or being subject to performance improvement plans. 

The important thing to keep in mind is to give people an opportunity to adjust and then deal with those who are unable to make the change happen. 

How have you handled the transition from an autocratic leader to a participative one?

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