What Is Coercive Leadership? (Plus How To Use It At Work)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 September 2022

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Managers in popular industries, such as construction and manufacturing, may use a variety of leadership styles, such as coercive leadership, to motivate employees and increase internal productivity. This approach can help supervisors ensure professionals adhere to necessary guidelines and policies within the workplace. Understanding how to use this leadership strategy and its benefits can help you and your team meet business objectives faster, safer and more efficiently.

In this article, we define what coercive leadership is, highlight the key concepts of this approach, review the advantages and disadvantages of implementing it in the workplace and see how to use it effectively.

What Is Coercive Leadership?

The coercive leadership method, also called autocratic leadership, is a managerial approach that involves supervisors providing explicit instruction and close supervision. It is a strict leadership style that leaves little room for error and demands results. Managers who implement it typically have a substantial amount of authority and work closely with their employees. Companies operating in industries with extensive safety or operational regulations often use this leadership method.

Manufacturing, banking and medical industries usually use some sort of this leadership to ensure employees stay safe and follow laws. Newly acquired businesses or company mergers may look for leaders with this approach to help team members learn and understand new rules or policies. Some leaders use a mix of styles to better manage their teams and address individuals' unique learning styles or company-wide requirements.

Related: What Is Autocratic Leadership?

Key Concepts Of This Type Of Leadership

Here are some of the key concepts of this leadership approach:

Top-down communication

Coercive leaders typically use a top-down communication method and make decisions for their employees using data they collect, rather than by gathering input from their team. These leaders analyse the situations that arise and make choices based on this information and their understanding of the industry, company and employees. These leaders usually take control over the direction of projects and their team's tasks and provide specific instruction to other professionals.

Related: What Is The Importance Of Leadership In The Workplace?

Clear rules and consequences

Leaders who use this approach typically outline clear rules for their employees and help them gain a clear understanding of the consequences of positive performance and behaviours that require improvement. They typically implement regulations they believe are necessary for increasing productivity and efficiency. This leadership approach can help ensure employees adhere to procedures that keep themselves or the organisation safe and operating effectively.

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles

Strategic planning of internal processes

While managers may not rely on employee feedback before making significant business decisions, they do use research and data to plan internal processes and regulations strategically. Leaders use various pieces of information to identify the rules for employees to follow and the tasks and responsibilities professionals handle. They develop these plans to ensure they help foster a safe and productive work environment that provides employees with the instruction and support they require to perform their job duties accurately.

Related: Accountable Leadership: Definition, Importance And Tips

Advantages Of This Approach In The Workplace

Using this leadership style can provide managers and their teams with a variety of advantages, including:

Improved workplace safety

With specific rules, regulations and procedures in place, in addition to strict enforcement, this leadership approach can help managers improve safety in the workplace. Employees may be more willing to follow the guidelines set for them, conduct their work appropriately and take precautionary measures when necessary. This makes this type of leadership an appropriate strategy for businesses in the manufacturing and construction industries.

Related: 7 Leadership Theories For Career Growth

Decreased employee deviation

While many leadership styles allow employees to deviate from rules when they find a better work method, coercive leaders enforce clear rules and guidelines. As these managers often set these guidelines to ensure employees produce a certain type of work on time and safely, it is important for them to ensure professionals adhere to them. They may take additional time to explain why it is important to follow specific rules to help employees gain a better understanding of the value of a strict professional structure.

Related: Communication Skills In Leadership: Importance And Benefits

Increased workplace productivity

This leadership approach allows managers to outline and share their expectations with their teams, making it easier for employees to review and understand their required tasks and deadlines. It is important that professionals meet their supervisors' expectations as closely as possible, and by doing so, they can contribute to the success of the company overall. When professionals understand the job duties, they are responsible for and their managers' expectations, it can help them stay focused and complete their tasks on time. This can improve the productivity of their department and the business.

Related: 10 Tips For Working Effectively And Improving Productivity

Support for inexperienced or unmotivated employees

In some industries, new hires or those in entry-level positions may require additional guidance while learning about their roles. Leaders who use this approach may excel in outlining guidelines and encouraging their team to complete their tasks more efficiently and stay committed to the company's goals. Inexperienced team members can benefit from a more direct leader to ensure they handle their new responsibilities. Having clearly outlined expectations and requirements can also help new team members understand what their supervisors expect and adapt to their new role with ease.

Related: How To Improve Work Efficiency And Become More Productive

Setbacks Of This Leadership Style

While there are several advantages of using this leadership style, there are also a few disadvantages to this approach, including:

Employees may want to have more input and autonomy

Coercive leaders usually make the majority of their business decisions independently. Some employees may prefer a leadership style that provides them with more autonomy. Other leadership styles involve employee feedback, and some staff members may look for a role and manager that allow them to share their opinions and insights.

Related: Top 10 Management Challenges And How To Overcome Them

Strict expectations

Managers who use this leadership style typically have strict expectations of their employees. While this can increase productivity, some staff members may prefer a work environment that offers more flexibility and adapts to employees' preferences and habits. It is important for professionals to consider their professional habits and preferred management styles when considering a workplace where managers are coercive leaders.

Potential obstacles to innovation and collaboration

This leadership style can prevent some professionals from sharing their creative ideas, as they may be unable to offer their feedback freely. By halting creative expression, coercive leaders may also be creating an obstacle for innovative ideas. While managers who use this approach rarely seek employees' input, it is still important for them to create open communication with their staff to ensure everyone feels confident sharing their ideas.

How To Use This Leadership Style

If you are interested in becoming a coercive leader, here are some steps you can follow to implement this approach in the workplace:

1. Identify the rules you want to implement and enforce

The first step towards using a coercive approach to management is to identify the rules you want to implement. You can also review the current regulations and decide which guidelines you want to continue to enforce. Outline the rules with your team and publish physical copies of them so all professionals understand your expectations. Depending on the company and industry, this can help them perform their job duties accurately and stay safe in the workplace.

2. Provide your team with the knowledge and tools they require

Besides a clearer understanding of the rules, it is also important to provide your team with further knowledge about the work they conduct and the tools required. Ensure all employees have the ability to use any tools or machinery safely and understand how to create a product. If your team requires additional assistance or clarification, consider hosting a training session to show them what you expect. This can not only ensure that employees understand guidelines and expectations but can help you gain their trust and respect by demonstrating your investment in their professional development.

3. Remain consistent in your coercive style

One of the most important steps in using this leadership approach is to ensure that you remain consistent in your rule enforcement. Follow through with the rules you established and give employees appropriate discipline when necessary. Ensure your disciplinary actions remain the same for all employees, to highlight your fair approach to management. Consistency can help you gain respect from your team and may discourage deviation.

Related: How To Provide Constructive Criticism In The Workplace

4. Recognise employees' success

Motivate your team through recognition to show them that you value their contributions and adherence to the company's regulations. While rule enforcement remains a top priority, focus on the good that employees do as well. If any employee or group of employees conduct exceptional work over the course of a specific period, inform them of how well they performed. This can help you encourage them to continue following your new rules and regulations and completing their professional tasks with accuracy. It may also help employees to understand that your new policies can support them in performing better.

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