4 min read

The Dictator

The Dictator
All credit to Paramount Pictures I suppose. Is it crass but biting satire? Pointless trash? Hard to tell really

As a manager and leader, I don't always have a perfect grasp of what it is that I need to do.

I mean, I'm pretty sure I need to take good care of the people that I'm responsible for. To ensure that they are happy, healthy, growing and fulfilled. Primarily because people are important, but also because that sort of mindset leads to better outcomes for everyone.

I'm also pretty sure that I need to ensure that whatever business I'm working for gets a good return on its investment. Keeping things on track, ensuring that results are being delivered and so on.

But, even within the relatively simple scope of responsibilities that I've just described, there is a lot of wiggle room.

For example, as a leader you often need to make decisions and force outcomes.

But how far do you take it?

Why Are You Guys So Anti-Dictators?

I don't know about you, but if I'm making decisions, I want them to be good ones. To achieve excellent outcomes and to make everyone involved happy.

But how do you make good decisions?

Often, it feels like the easiest way to do that is to exert more control. After all, if you control all the things, then you have the greatest chance of getting the best outcomes. Nothing can go wrong.

You become an all-knowing, infallible, decision-making machine.

A benevolent dictator.

It's a nice image, isn't it?

To have someone who has all the context, knows all the angles and has both a long and short term plan in place to accomplish all the things. Someone who has the will and persistence to see it all through to the end.

I want to be that person.

I want to help everyone I'm responsible for to be confident that someone else has it all under control. All they have to do is what they are told to do.

I want to get excellent outcomes for the business, to prove that the investment they made was not only warranted, but it was also smart.

Who wouldn't want that?

Imagine If Your Workplace Was A Dictatorship

Unfortunately, the benevolent dictator is a fallacy.

It sounds good on the surface, especially if you think you're going to be the one who is dictating, but it just isn't real.

No one person is capable of doing it well. Capable of holding all of the context and making all of the decisions and having the strategy and following through on the strategy and so on and so forth.

Many people think that they are capable of doing it, but they are usually the worst candidates to try. Blinded by arrogance and oblivious to the fact that they are doing more damage than good.

But even if a single person was capable of being a perfect decision-making machine, there is always the risk of corruption. Of losing that benevolent mindset. Once you're making all of the decisions, you're probably not listening to anyone around you, and if you're not listening then it's easy to forget that other people matter.

And that leads to all sorts of horrible outcomes.

What if an incorruptible, benevolent, amazingly capable person existed though? Would everything be okay then?

I don't think so.

A dictator, regardless of benevolence, leaves no room for those around them to grow and change, because where is the opportunity? How would a person take a shot at something, fail, and learn a valuable lesson if there is an omnipotent god sitting above them and directing their every move?

At best, a benevolent dictator would bring comfort to a subset of people who are happy enough to stagnate, but at worst it would discourage those who have the potential to become more.

To become better.

It's A Capital Offence To Be Proud Of Your Job

So, don't be a dictator, benevolent or not.

Or maybe, do?

There's a line here and sometimes you have to dance along it like some sort of fantastically nimble ballerina. Sometimes you have to be the dictator and sometimes you definitely shouldn't be.

I've learned recently that I don't always know when to intervene. When to step up, make my expectations clear, set direction, make decisions, and force a particular outcome.

It's hard for me, a little bit because I want everyone to like me, but also because I know what it's like being on the receiving end of that sort of thing and I don't want to put anyone else through that.

I'm afraid of being the dictator. Of going too far and doing some metaphorical face stomping with my imaginary jackboots. I can definitely be arrogant and controlling, so I think it would be an easy transition if I let my guard down.

How do you know when you should intervene and play the role of the dictator versus when you should step back and just let something happen?

You don't.

Well, you can't be sure. As you gain experience, build trust with those around you and attune to how they are feeling about what's going on in their lives you can get a sense of whether or not you're on the right path.

A sense of when it's time to put on the imaginary jackboots and go stomping.

Metaphorically of course.

Such A Fascist! And Not In A Good Way

I've definitely been called a dictator.

Usually with the "benevolent" tag attached, and, as far as I know, mostly in jest, but there is always a kernel of truth in that sort of thing. Benevolent or not, I think it's a dangerous behaviour to exhibit.

I'm sure that I could get some excellent outcomes if I went down that particular path more frequently, but they would be short-term only.

Everyone would lose out in the long-term.

Interestingly enough, way back in 2018 I wrote a blog post about how I was scared of being a micromanager, so clearly it's something that I've had on my mind for a while now.

I don't think there is a risk of me turning to the dark side, at least as long as I have both that fear and empathy to keep me in check.

If it did happen though, I hope that the people around put an end to that sort of behaviour.

Using whatever force is necessary to do so.