Autocratic Management and
A New Management Paradigm
Posted on August 13, 2018 by Jonathan Mills
Traditional management philosophy, generally characterized as variations of autocratic management, has many years of history under its belt. Those years have produced a great deal, including the success of many important people and organizations; but its strengths may not be congruent with modern culture. As the workforce changes, demanding greater freedom, and the job market becomes more competitive, our management philosophy needs to evolve. It needs to capitalize on intrinsic motivation, personal fulfillment, self-efficacy, and a host of ideals that are typically viewed as “soft”. More progressive philosophies like democratic management are a step in the right direction, but the command and control mentality is a declining approach in the modern workplace. We need a fresh idea.
A Lesson from Marching Band
As a high school student, I was privileged to be part of a highly skilled marching band. I loved the thrill of stepping onto the field for competition, energized by the crowd, having rehearsed for hours and hours under the hot sun. I loved the precision, the discipline, and the mutual trust between bandmates. We used keen hearing and observation to produce music that was beautiful and precise while executing complex formations. That experience is the most powerful memory of my youth.
As a senior, I was given the opportunity to lead my section as captain. My responsibility was to lead our small group in rehearsals and unify us in a single direction and focus; but I didn’t do well. I tried really hard to impose control over my group, but maintaining order was like pushing rope. My team did not want to listen. Why? One reason is because I was far too commanding and rigid. I failed to foster my team’s love for music, performance, or comradery; and as a result, I lost some of their trust.
What I learned from this experience I have since improved upon, but until now I never fully realized how potentially negative over-management can be. When control and order become a leader’s core drive, their team loses motivation and trust. This issue is a serious problem in traditional leadership. We have a history of harming employees by over-managing them. This is not an indictment of the role “manager”, nor is it an argument in favor of the role “leader”. Rather, I would like to present the idea that we need a fresh inspiration for organizational leadership. If we step back and think out-of-the-box with a new perspective, the core values that should drive a manager will become clear. Toward that goal, I have identified a few key problems with traditional management. I follow that information with a few ideas for the reimagined management role.
Problems with Traditional Management
1 Extrinsic Motivation
Traditional management is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It assumes that employees need to be coerced or rewarded to be productive, snuffing out opportunities for autonomy and resulting in a poorly motivated workforce. Consider shifting toward a focus on intrinsic motivation. An employee who loves what they do for its own sake will always outperform an employee with high pay and no love for their work.
2 Backwards Methodology
Traditional management uses rules and policies as it’s backbone. Rather than starting with people and their motivations, it favors unrealistic expectations of maintaining “business as usual”. In a world that demands flexibility, this backwards approach will always fail. Future philosophies ought to flip the norm and use rules and policies to gird and protect employee freedoms.
3 Out of Date
Over time, although traditional management has added new ideas, certifications, and requirements, it has never evolved beyond its original function. Rather than repurpose old ideas, we need to be approaching change with out-of-the-box thinking. Otherwise, we will never escape the fundamental assumptions that autocratic-type management styles hold (i.e. theory X, hierarchical authority, and factory-line mentality).
A New Perspective
1 Intrinsically Motivation is Powerful
Intrinsic motivation is extremely powerful. It drives us to seek new challenges and achievements, evaluate self, find purpose, and to enjoy the journey. Unlike extrinsic motivation (e.g. pay or punishment), it produces self-efficacy, self-worth, creativity, courage, comradery, etc. Managers need to be well-acquainted with how to foster this motivation, focused on ensuring employees can experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Learn more intrinsic motivation here.
2 Change is a Constant
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” -Heraclitus
The traditional management philosophy was built on a notion that stability is normal. It has generated some prolific philosophies, like “Business as Usual” (BAU) and the “unfreeze, change, refreeze” methodology; but, the realities of daily business are anything but stable. Consider the current job-seeker’s market, the decline of “career for life”, shortening career tenure, and the alternative values held by Millennials (now the largest portion of the workforce). Also consider this example from author Paul Gibbons, who surveyed a group of 25 Wisconsin middle-managers in 2012. He found that each manager was responsible for eight or nine change projects and effected by at least 23, which means that change was their norm, not the exception. This still does not account for the requirements to constantly improve performance and efficiencies, develop staff, and network. It also doesn’t account for the “change backlash” caused by projects in neighboring divisions and client organizations. These managers’ daily experience involved constant change and friction.
Change is constant, not episodic. This reality does not agree with traditional business management, which defines success as predictability and maintenance of the status quo. Traditional management is like rowing upstream, causing undue burden and stress. Why not instead become masters of change? Implement policies and procedures that foster change-agility and transform the role of manager into one of behavioral leadership, not autocracy.
The New Management Paradigm
Many managers have already grasped the above ideals. They strive to serve their teams, sacrificing so that their employees can have a better experience at work. Isn’t it time that we capture that heart and define a management philosophy with people at the center? I imagine it will look something like “servant leadership”, but that it will be even more strongly rooted in the idea that managers are catalysts for inspiration. Their role is not only to serve their teams but to exemplify corporate values and facilitate intrinsic motivation. They assume that employees can be self-actualized, creative, courageous, and productive. They choose to trust their employees, share authority, take risks, and remain transparent. Rather than ask, “How do we manage employee behavior?”, they ask, “How do we model behavior effectively?”
What will they do?
- Foster intrinsic motivation by protecting autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- Exemplify corporate values with sincerity.
- Actively build trust and relationships between employees, between employees and self, and between employees and leadership.
How will they do it?
- Behavioral leadership (adopt rather than impose behaviors).
- Sincerely believe in employee potential.
- Practice effective communication (quality, planned, reliable, and transparent).
My hope is that these ideas and guidelines are a stepping stone toward designing truly effective management practices. Standing up this new paradigm will foster a more healthy culture for your organization and improve productivity by activating your employees’ potential. If you would like additional insights or assistance, reach out to Corporate Culture Specialist. We are a firm dedicated to helping organizations realize their full potential through inspired corporate culture. You can contact us here, or find additional insights on our blog.
Recommended Reading: 12 Essentials for Powerful Corporate Culture