An authoritarian leadership style is described as being as "leaders behavior that asserts absolute authority and control over subordinates and [that] demands unquestionable obedience from subordinates." Such a leader has full control of the team, leaving low autonomy within the group. The group is expected to complete the tasks under very close supervision, while unlimited authority is self-bestowed by the leader. Subordinates' responses to the orders given are either punished or rewarded. A way that those that have authoritarian leadership behaviors tend to lean more on "...unilateral decision-making through the leader and strive to maintain the distance between the leader and his or her followers."
Authoritarian leaders are commonly referred to as "autocratic" leaders. They sometimes, but not always, provide clear expectations for what needs to be done, when it should be done, and how it should be done. There is also a clear divide between the leader and the followers. Bob Altemeyer conducted research on what he labeled right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and presented an analysis of the personality types of both the authoritarian leaders and the authoritarian followers.
Authoritarian leaders make decisions independently with little or no input from the rest of the group. They uphold stringent control over their followers by directly regulating rules, methodologies, and actions. Authoritarian leaders construct gaps and build distance between themselves and their followers with the intention of stressing role distinctions. This type of leadership dates back to the earliest tribes and empires. It is often used in present-day when there is little room for error, such as construction jobs or manufacturing jobs.
Authoritarian leadership typically fosters little creativity in decision-making. Lewin also found that it is more difficult to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa. Abuse of this style is usually viewed as controlling, bossy and dictatorial. Authoritarian leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group discussion.