Definition

paternalistic leadership

Contributor(s): Francesca Sales

Paternalistic leadership is a managerial approach that involves a dominant authority figure who acts as a patriarch or matriarch and treats employees and partners as though they are members of a large, extended family. In exchange, the leader expects loyalty and trust from employees, as well as obedience

In some cultures, the gender-neutral phrase "parental leadership" has replaced the words paternalistic or maternalistic. Regardless of what word is used to describe the parent, employees who work in such an environment are expected to understand that the authority figure knows what is best for the organization and trust that their leader will always have an employee's best interests at heart. Employees are listened to, but the leader always makes the final decision. 

A successful paternalistic leader thinks about the big picture and considers how every decision will affect "the family."  Paternal leaders value education and social skills and often go out of their way to provide employees with opportunities for improving business and interpersonal skills. A benefit of this managerial style, when carried out successfully, is that employees may work harder to complete tasks within a given time frame so that they can reach, and sometimes even exceed, their goals in order to please the parental leader and bring honor to the family. 

A shortcoming of paternalistic leadership is the possibility that the parent figure may inadvertently upset the hierarchial structure of the family, especially during times of crisis. If a parental leader is perceived to unfairly favor some members over others, jealousy and resentment can poison the workplace environment and the patriarch or matriarch will not longer have the loyalty, trust, and obedience he or she requires to be an effective leader. 

This was last updated in April 2016

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Do you or the executives in your organization use some aspects of paternalistic leadership? If so, how?
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It's not uncommon and it's typically a reason why best performers leave. Instead of dictating people what to do and taking credits (or placing blame) leaders should empower people and provide continuous feedback.
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That's probably another dated, anti-agile concept. One person can never be equally well skilled in all aspects and be aware of all the details. Especially in IT business.
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