Authoritative Leaders

The authoritative leader was first described by Daniel Goleman in conjunction with the six leadership styles defined in his theory of Emotional Intelligence.  As described by Goleman, authoritative leaders are experts in their field of work, and individuals that are able to clearly articulate a vision and the path to success.

The trademark of this type of leader is their ability to mobilize people towards a vision.  This leadership style is most effective when a new vision is needed, or when the path to that vision is not always clear.  One of the interesting aspects of this style is that even though the leader is considered an authority, they allow their followers to figure out the best way to accomplish their goals.

Pros and Cons of Authoritative Leadership

The authoritative leadership style is best used in situations when a company or followers seem to be drifting aimlessly.  For example, it's effective when a group or organization has been isolated, and their overall strategy and fit within the larger company is no longer clear to the followers.

Pros

Studies conducted by Hay / McBer examined the observations of thousands of executives; trying to understand their behaviors and their impact on the work environment.  This team wanted to better understand how a particular leadership approach affects their direct reports.

The findings of this study indicate the authoritative leader has the most positive impact of all styles on the overall operating climate.  This style creates a very positive and upbeat place to work.

Cons

Even though authoritative leaders have the most positive affect on the work environment, it isn't necessarily the style that should be emulated all of the time.  In particular, if a new manager finds themselves placed into a workgroup of "experts," it may be difficult, if not impossible, for this new leader to enter the group and immediately express their vision of where the workgroup should go.

This example brings to light the fact that Situational Leadership is just that: an approach that needs to adapt to each situation.  Someone may have been successful with the authoritative leadership style when they were the "resident expert."  But when someone's direct reports are now the experts, then a different style is needed to remain successful.

Examples of Authoritative Leaders

Providing examples of authoritative leaders is not always easy.  That's because in various situations this same leader may have exhibited a different style.  Listed below are three examples of authoritative leaders, and we'll explain how, and when, they were exhibiting this particular style:

Bill Gates

We're starting out with Bill Gates because this style exemplifies his leadership abilities.  As is the case with many CEOs, Bill Gates was able to successfully move Microsoft in the direction he saw the industry going.

Even though Mr. Gates eventually removed himself from some of the daily operations of Microsoft, he was still thought of as an industry visionary - an authority.  The personal computer is playing a greater role in America, and Bill Gates has done much to further its advancement.  He had a vision, he told the world, and he aligned the resources of Microsoft with that vision.

John F. Kennedy

One of the many things that John F. Kennedy is remembered for is his vision concerning the United States' space program.  On September 12, 1962, while speaking at Rice University, President Kennedy said:

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."

He then went on to talk about "metal alloys that had not yet been invented" that are "capable of withstanding heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced."  He had a vision of sending a man to the moon and back safely.  He even explained how it was going to be accomplished.  John F. Kennedy was exhibiting an authoritative leadership style that mobilized the resources of an entire nation towards this single goal.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Our final example of an authoritative leader is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  He is another great leader that was able to mobilize a nation towards a vision.  Here is how Dr. King expressed this vision:

"So I say to you, my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

During this same "I have a dream" speech, Dr. King explained the exact path to this freedom:

"Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."

He was speaking with authority, he knew what the future could look like, and he needed his followers to understand how he wanted to achieve this vision.  During this speech, he exemplified the "come with me" characteristic associated with authoritative leaders.


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