Autocratic Leadership Style


First described by Lewin, Lippitt, and White in 1938, the autocratic leadership style was one of three leadership types documented. The autocratic leadership style is sometimes referred to as the directive leadership style, with characteristics that include:

  • Work methods dictated by the leader
  • Limited employee participation in most aspects of work
  • Unilateral decision making by the leader


Lewin, Lippitt, and White were one of the first researchers to categorize leadership styles in terms of behavioral characteristics.  Prior to their work, personal traits were the focus of leadership studies.  In addition to autocratic leaders, this team also described laissez faire and democratic leadership styles.

The basis for their model was behavioral theory, which states that leaders are made, not born.  That is to say, leadership does not come naturally.  It is something that can be learned through classroom study and observation of others.

Related Terms

emotional intelligence, behavioral leadership