Many workplace cultures are autocratic, top-down, command and control. Some might even say they’re toxic. This begs the question: Collaborative leadership in an autocratic environment — can it be successful? Or will it be looked down upon as “not the way things are done here” and shunned and discouraged? If you work in a Q1 command and control environment — whether it is the company culture or just your boss — can Q4 collaboration be successful?
Dee has a middle-management position at a large commercial insurance firm. She oversees 10 agents. Other managers on her level lead similar teams.
Dee would describe the company culture as dictatorial leadership. It is coercive, overcontrolling — what we call Q1, dominant hostile leadership on our behavioral model.
Dee doesn’t mind that the environment is competitive. In fact, she believes internal competition can be good motivation. But managers around her tend to use pressure, fear, and other negative reinforcement to produce results. They do their own planning with little or no input. Communication is primarily one-way.
Not only is this the leadership style among her peers, but Dee’s boss, Steve, often behaves the same way. Steve frequently uses Q1 intimidation to badger Dee and tries to micromanage her. Dee thinks of Steve as a “bossy boss.”
Does Q4 work in a Q1 Culture?
Dee makes a good salary, and her advancement prospects are bright. Can Dee function as a Q4 collaborative leader and deal with her controlling boss (perhaps even shift the culture), or should she seek employment elsewhere?
Managing Direct Reports
Suppose Dee decides to stay in this Q1 environment. In that case, she can apply Q4 leadership principles to all her interactions with her direct reports. Dee can enlist their ideas and involve them in planning so they will have an opportunity to grow in their jobs. She can also challenge them to perform at their best, believing that this is the soundest way to gain a long-term, deeper commitment to goals.
Autocratic Leadership Advantages and Disadvantages
While Q1 pressure tactics often extract performance results from direct reports in the short term, they don’t build commitment. In fact, Q1 leadership often leads to employee burnout. Attrition can be high.
In contrast, by providing Q4 leadership, Dee has an excellent chance to succeed at building teamwork, camaraderie, and high performance among her people.
How to Deal with a Toxic Boss
Dee should also employ a Q4 strategy with Steve, her boss. This style offers the best opportunity for Dee to build a smooth working relationship while allowing Dee to learn and grow in her position.
While it may be tempting to go toe-to-toe with a Q1 leader, Dee should respect Steve’s authority, not threaten it. She has to understand Steve’s need for status and recognition. At the same time, Dee should be candid and forceful. It will help her if she summarizes often and puts things in writing. She shouldn’t surprise Steve with ideas but lay the groundwork for approaching him. Find out what Steve finds challenging and help him. This will indicate to Steve Dee’s value and the value of being Q4.
Collaborative Leadership in a Dictatorial Culture?
So, can collaborative leadership in an autocratic environment work? The short answer is Yes. As we’ve seen, Dee can undoubtedly use a Q4 style with her direct reports. As she engenders strong results, other leaders may even seek to emulate her challenge & involve approach.
Q4 is also the most effective of the four leadership styles for handling a Q1 supervisor. Dee’s Q4 behavior may cause Steve to curtail his Q1 behavior enough that the two can forge a productive relationship.
Whether Dee is willing to continue working in a Q1 environment is a personal choice she’ll need to make. But a collaborative leadership style can succeed in an authoritarian organizational culture.
Next Steps in Your Leadership Development
The next time someone asks, “Does collaborative leadership work in an autocratic environment?” you can answer yes and explain why.
If you would like to learn more about challenging leadership situations and how to handle them, check out our Leadership Learning page.
See our leadership development page if you are ready to take action, become more Q4 in your leadership, and drive better results in your organization. Ready to take the learning from the page into action? Our Q4 Leadership workshops can help you take a big step in your personal leadership effectiveness.
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