Authoritative leadership should not be confused with authoritarian leadership; in this context they are polar opposites.
Authoritative leaders have high expectations, respond actively, listen more than they talk, and readily reason with those they lead.
In Scouting our expectations are clear and well-defined but it’s a mistake to apply that clarity and definition in an authoritarian or obedience-oriented manner.
While we encourage obedience we don’t want Scouts to be unquestioning drones, we want Scouts asking questions so we can help them find answers.
Authoritative – High Expectations, Active Response
- Established rules and guidelines
- Controls and limitations are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive.
- Expectations for mature, independent, and age-appropriate behavior.
- Encourages exploration, independent reason-based decision making.
- Democratic response and willing to listen to questions.
- Explanations and motives are clear, reasonable and fair.
- Discussions are exchanges of ideas, not monologues.
- Attentive to needs and concerns
- When expectations are not met the response is more nurturing and forgiving than punishing.
- Empathy for feelings and useful ideas of how to properly regulate feelings.
- Helps find appropriate outlets to solve problems.
- Responses to misbehavior are measured and consistent, not arbitrary or abrupt.
- Supportive, rather than punitive, oriented at responsible, self-regulated and cooperative behavior.
Uniforms and ranks and badges of office are powerful symbols of authoritarian systems and can cause people to adopt an authoritarian style of leadership. Respect is a key factor too, authoritative leaders earn respect, authoritarian leaders demand respect.
Authoritarian leaders do get things done, but our goal is much broader than efficiently completing tasks or missions.
Authoritarian – High Demand, Low Response
- Strict rules and punishment.
- High expectations of conformity and compliance to rules and directions.
- Little opportunity for autonomy or decision making.
- Fails to explain the reasoning behind these rules if asked.
- Requests for explanations are considered disrespectful.
- Obedience oriented, orders to be obeyed without explanation.
- Demands issued without consideration for discussion.
The other end of the spectrum is the permissive style that is actually not leadership at all. Permissive leaders are motivated by seeking friendship of those they lead by having low expectations. This almost inevitably backfires. Permissive leaders don’t earn respect or friendship or accomplish much other than getting people laughing behind their backs.
Permissive – Over Responsive, Low Expectations
- Few demands, rules or guidelines
- Low expectations of maturity and self-control.
- More responsive than demanding.
- Sometimes over-indulgent response to wishes or needs.
- Lenient, do not require mature behavior, allow considerable self-regulation, and avoid confrontation.
- Allows impulsive misconduct.
- Demands little accountability.
- Nurturing and communicative, often seeking the status of a friend.
Authoritative leaders earn respect, and carry out things by motivating rather than demanding. Rather than dictating high expectations they encourage others to adopt them. There response to difficulty is tempered with empathy and compassion.