No leadership style is effective for all circumstances (Kinicki & Fugate, 2017). Scholars have identified three traditional leadership styles: autocratic, bureaucratic, and charismatic leadership. These styles have their advantages and disadvantages that may be suitable in a particular circumstance, but not suitable in a different situation.

The autocratic leadership style refers to a particular style of leadership where power and authority are concentrated in the leader (Harms et al., 2018). This style usually results in the leader taking almost all responsibility for decisions and it frequently demands the absolute obedience of their followers (Pellegrini & Scandura, 2008). Russell (2011) argued that toxic leaders are prevalent in this leadership style, but Harms et al. (2018) assured that autocratic leadership tends to be perceived as a negative approach due to the researcher’s bias. Scholars tend to agree that the directive approach, which is the main power of autocratic leadership, can be effective in some circumstances, and in some situations, it can be a necessary choice of leadership style.

Bureaucratic leadership is characterized by leaders that designed policies and procedures and then influence their subordinates to follow strictly follow them (Al Khajeh, 2018). This leadership style can be very effective in circumstances where rules are of utmost importance, such as in dangerous environments where safety procedures must be followed (Russell, 2011). It can also be effective in highly regulated organizations, such as government agencies or judicial institutions.

Charismatic leadership is characterized by leaders who emanate enthusiasm and inspire their subordinates to achieve their goals (Russell, 2011). Leaders practicing this style will develop an interpersonal attraction that inspires acceptance, devotion, and enthusiasm (Kinicki & Fugate, 2017). They develop a vision and the followers are invited to follow and execute the vision as well as motivated through innovation and creativity (Al Khajeh, 2018). Charismatic leaders tend to be persuasive and reliable. However, in charismatic leadership, subordinates tend to heavily rely on the leader and struggle without the leader’s presence (Russell, 2011). The organization as a whole tends to rely on the leader, therefore when the leader is gone or when the leader pursues another interest, the organization may fall apart.

Key Comparison of Autocratic, Bureaucratic, and Charismatic Leadership Styles

Charismatic leadership is more popular since it is suitable for common business circumstances, while autocratic and bureaucratic leadership will be more effective in certain situations. The main difference between these styles is in the leader’s approach to influencing the subordinates. Autocratic leaders use a directive approach, while bureaucratic leaders use policies and regulations. Both styles are usually enabled by a high sense of authority and power. While charismatic leaders use inspiration and enthusiasm that are enabled by interpersonal attraction from within their characters.

Examples from World Leaders

Examples of autocratic leadership can typically be seen in wartime leaders, such as Napoleon Bonaparte. Some contemporary figures are also perceived as portraying traits of autocratic leadership, such as Donald Trump and even famous CEOs like Elon Musk and the late Steve Jobs. In terms of their highly directive approach, they can be considered autocratic (Fata, 2020a), even though some may consider them charismatic due to their high enthusiasm for influencing people around them (Jansen et al., 2012).

Examples of bureaucratic leadership are familiar in a government institution. Winston Churchill, in his time of leadership as the UK’s Prime Minister, portrayed a strong sense of structure, careful control, and consistent uniformity through solid policies to reach goals (Fata, 2020b). Indonesia’s current president, Joko Widodo, exhaustively designs bills and laws to create and enforce changes.

Abundant examples of charismatic leaders can be seen in today’s business context. Southwest Airlines founder, the late Herb Kelleher, is well-known for his charisma that enabled the airline to rise as one of the best in the United States. Some peaceful leader movements can also be seen as charismatic, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the first African female to win the Nobel prize, Wangari Maathai, which I discussed in the Unit.

My Personal Leadership Style

I think my most dominant style is charismatic leadership. In leader position, I tend to put myself in a position to inspire people, instead of using a heavily directive approach or extensive use of regulations. Even though I am still lacking in the interpersonal attraction of charismatic leadership, I am working to build upon it through learning and experience.

Meanwhile, I have underdeveloped traits for the two other styles. Autocratic leadership requires a strong directive and control capability, which I am personally weak in those traits. However, I think I can force myself to take a directive approach whenever necessary, such as in a time of crisis where decisions need to be taken quickly. While bureaucratic leadership tends to perform better inside a fully integrated bureaucratic system that is highly regulated. For background, I am an entrepreneur that usually demands creative and critical thinking which often requires me to step out of safe boundaries. I rarely have any special interest in a highly procedural and bureaucratic environment. Hence, my bureaucratic leadership style is not developed during my working experience.


Al Khajeh, E. H. (2018). Impact of Leadership Styles on Organizational Performance. Journal of Human Resources Management Research, 1–10.

Fata, E. (2020a, August 17). 5 Examples of Autocratic Leadership in Action. StartingBusiness.

Fata, E. (2020b, August 17). 5 Examples of Bureaucratic Leadership In Action. StartingBusiness.

Harms, P., Wood, D., Landay, K., Lester, P. B., & Vogelgesang Lester, G. (2018). Autocratic leaders and authoritarian followers revisited: A review and agenda for the future. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(1), 105–122.

Jansen, F., Spoelstra, W., Hafidz, I., & Bastrenta, G. (2012). How Apple Can Deal With The Inevitable Leaving Of The Charismatic Leader Steve Jobs. Information Systems Journal, 4(3), 169-175.

Kinicki, A., & Fugate, M. (2017). Loose Leaf for Organizational Behavior: A Practical, Problem-Solving Approach (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Pellegrini, E. K., & Scandura, T. A. (2008). Paternalistic Leadership: A Review and Agenda for Future Research. Journal of Management, 34(3), 566–593.

Russell, E. (2011, September 8). Leadership theories and style: A transitional approach. General Douglas MacArthur Military Leadership Writing Competition.

Harms, P. D., Wood, D., Landay, K., Lester, P. B., & Vogelgesang Lester, G. (2018). Autocratic leaders and authoritarian followers revisited: A review and agenda for the future. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(1), 105–122. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.12.007 

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