Leadership behavior can be predicted based on a leader’s Striving Style or MBTI type. With the Striving Styles, you can also identify the function of the brain that will be used to decide and gather information and the predominant, emotional need that must be met for a leader to perform optimally. It also determines both the leadership style and the dysfunctional, self-protective behaviors of the leader based on their Striving Style.

Leaders with the self-protective Autocratic Persona are those whose dominant or second function is Extraverted Thinking, which resides in the left rational brain. This function has a predominant need to be in control. The Striving Styles and MBTI types associated with this function are Leader (ESTJ or ENTJ), Stabilizer (ISTJ) or Visionary (INTJ). When leading from their Autocratic persona, they control others by establishing the way they want things done, dominating and expecting others to submit to their will. They have little tolerance for being challenged or opposed. While they appear similar to the narcissist in how they expect others to adapt, the difference is they know better and regret outbursts of emotion, will feel ashamed and will listen when they are not stressed or otherwise wound up.

All leaders have strengths and blind spots based on how their brain is organized. It is through the overuse of these strengths and the absence of development of self-awareness and social awareness that they create ongoing issues for themselves, their employees and their organizations. They become limited by the unconscious use of their brain functions, and while they look like they are in control, it is often at the expense of others.

Any time a leader overuses their preferred function without developing leadership skills and emotional self-management, they resort to dysfunctional patterns of behavior that get in the way of their success. While they are meeting their emotional needs, it is at the expense of those around them. By understanding patterns of dysfunction that emerge from the brain of each of the Styles, we can get to know these tendencies and what to do to avoid acting in a way that hurts our reputation and interferes with our effectiveness as leaders.

Autocratic Leaders

Autocratic Leaders follow traditional approaches to growing their business and managing employees to ensure success. They enjoy deciding how things should be done and work hard to achieve their goals. Being in the driver’s seat is where they want to be, and running a business based on strategic and tactical plans is the way they like to go. They do well when there is poor organization, a lack of leadership, and an inability to set deadlines. They use their position of power and authority to control and take care of employees who, in turn, are expected to show obedience and loyalty. This type of leader considers themselves to be responsible for their people and promotes the idea of the company being “family” taking their role of being responsible for employees seriously.

Leaders with an Autocratic Leadership persona negate the value of collaboration, cooperation, empathy, caring and concern for the experience of employees. They are mostly concerned with the bottom line. Because it’s not easy for them to trust people and they need to be in control, they fail to delegate work and authority to their direct reports. They are prone to hiring people who defer to them and follow without question. This stifles innovation and creativity. Their focus on efficiency and over-investing in the growth of the business can make them lose sight of the bigger picture, resulting in a decline in market share. While they and their business may be successful, they are feared rather than liked by employees and customers alike.

Tips for Dealing with the Self-Protective Autocratic Persona

1. Know Yourself and Your Self-Protective Persona

Dealing with an Autocratic boss, peer or employee means that you have to know yourself and your own self-protective persona. Autocratic behavior can be frightening and trigger our own self-protective behavior. However, they might just be asking a question with laser-like intensity and strong emotion behind it and instead of answering the question, you personalize their delivery and convince yourself they don’t like what you said, your ideas or they don’t like you. Strong emotions frighten many people and if you work for someone with an Autocratic Persona, you must learn to build tolerance to their emotions and focus on their questions. Identify your “triggers or buttons” and your self-protective responses and stay objective.

2. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally

People with this personality type and self-protective persona tend to bottle up their emotions; they deal with them by withholding, rationalizing and compartmentalizing. They are afraid of expressing their emotions because they tend to be embarrassed by them. They can also fear they will be excessively harsh with people. Their energy goes into controlling their emotions, which then leads to bottling them up and then losing control altogether. When operating from the self-protective Autocratic persona, they are at the mercy of their emotions. Practice self-management and non-defensive communication.

3. Stay Objective

Many employees fear asking the Autocratic Leader for what they or their department wants and needs. They are afraid they will say no. They keep limping along, hoping that something will change. You need to build a business case to demonstrate why what you want is needed and what the benefits will be when it is finished. Being able to defend your proposal and influence their decision cannot be done when you come from a place of fear. Anticipate getting “no” the first, second and possibly third time. Don’t take “no” personally and use different influence strategies that may get them to “yes” in time. Too often, people who work for Autocratic Leaders stop asking after the first “no.”

4. Don’t Forget They Are Human

Self-protective Autocratic Leaders can become very mechanistic and solely focus on work, efficiency, and work product. They are viewed by others as detached, unfeeling and mechanistic, rather than as people. In fact, these leaders have a tendency to dehumanize themselves by putting work before their personal needs. The more pressed they are to achieve their goals, the less time they have for interpersonal niceties and relationship-building activities at work unless it serves a purpose. They are often seen as cold and uncaring, even by those who know them. Make sure you don’t change your behavior in reaction to them as it can alert them to how disconnected they have become.

5. Influence, Don’t Oppose

Challenging or disagreeing with the Autocratic Leader publicly is a sure way to get turfed from their good graces. Go to them after the fact to discuss the possible fallout from their ideas and approaches. The one-on-one approach is less threatening. Don’t be intimidated by their gruff manner or take their behavior personally. Influence the Autocratic Leader by presenting things in a way that has them seem like it is their idea. Don’t be territorial when an idea can improve the work-life of you and your colleagues. At the end of the day, if your idea is adopted, you and the business will benefit. You never know when the Autocratic Leader will refuse something of benefit just because they didn’t think of it and feel threatened. Don’t add to the problem by getting into a power struggle with them.

Develop from Your Autocratic Self-Protective Persona

1. Challenge the Status Quo

While you may be frustrated because no one speaks up or comes up with innovative ideas, you need to see that you are likely the reason people are afraid to speak. Your employees are trying to follow the rules you set and do things your way. This squashes the innovative spirit in people. Make room for brainstorming, experimentation and collective decision-making. Build some tolerance following other’s ideas instead of insisting they follow yours.

2. Develop Relationships

Playing the role of “boss” lets you feel in control and powerful. However, it doesn’t mean that you are in an authentic relationship with the people who work for you. Those people who you feel are close to you and supportive may act the way they do because they need their job. Real relationships are developed through trust, mutual interests and caring. Also, by taking time for social engagement at work.

3. Stop Overpowering People

Telling people what to do just makes them dependent on you. You need to recognize your need to be in control, becoming increasingly dominant or aggressive, so people do things the way you want them done. This intimidates people and creates a culture of fear. Learn impact and influence skills. Recognize that getting angry and frustrated is a habit of yours that doesn’t help employees learn or grow. Learn to manage your impulses and expectations.

4. Learn to Delegate

You need to trust that you can delegate both tasks and authority to others instead of taking responsibility for the performance of your direct reports. You need to build the skills needed to ensure the success of your direct reports and take a realistic look at how they perform and what they need to do to develop. If you aren’t delegating because you feel uncomfortable taking the time to engage, give expectations, coach and correct performance, it doesn’t let you off the hook.

5. Develop Empathy

You need to develop the capacity to use the part of your brain typically associated with creativity, cooperation, empathy and holistic approaches. Learn to listen to the other person’s experience and think about what they are feeling. Empathize with others and recognize the impact of your decisions and behavior on others. Developing emotional intelligence goes a long way to helping you achieve your potential as a leader.

We Can Develop from Self-Limiting Self-Protective Behavior 

Self-protective behavior is a normal human response to a threat. But when we don’t know we have become self-protective or when we react to the self-protective behavior of others, we prolong issues and limit our own growth and that of others and the organization. Whether it is managing ourselves through self-awareness or managing others through social awareness, understanding and humanizing emotionally driven behavior allows us to respond to issues and not react to behavior. 

Leaders’ self-protective behavior can negatively impact every aspect of organizational life. It creates dysfunction and gets in the way of productivity, employee development, achieving business goals and team cohesiveness. Find out more about how you can develop powerful, authentic leaders to drive your organization’s success by listening to Episode #23 of our podcast, entitled “Dismantling the Autocratic Dysfunction”.

Learn how you can lead with authority. Get a copy of So You Think You Can Lead? on Amazon. 


Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals.

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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