Most of us at some point in our lives have contemplated what it would be like to be dictator for a day. Imagine that your thoughts, ideas, and needs come first and those around you exist primarily to enable you to do what you want, when you want, and how you want. We live in an age where being called a dictator is less than complementary, but behaving like one remains acceptable. In other words, most prefer not to be equated to a “little” Stalin, Hitler, or Kim Jong-Il, but still seek power and preeminence with little concern for the practices most effective in delivering the desired result.
When a leader mirrors the traits of a dictator, the results not only hurt the organization, but its members as well. One of the first major studies of leadership type or style occurred in 1939. Kurt Lewin studied schoolchildren by assigning them to one of three groups with an authoritarian, democratic, or laissez-fair leader. Researchers observed how the children responded to their leader during an arts and craft project and documented the differences in response associated with each leadership style. As one would expect, considerable differs appeared between the groups.
The authoritarian or dictatorial leader tends to make all of the decisions and punishes those that disagree. The dictator justifies his or her actions though a combination of a decent dose of narcissism coupled with some level of subscription to McGregor’s Theory X of employees which perceives employees as lazy and work adverse. Assuming that Theory X represents the typical employee, then an effective leader needs to provide close supervision and control to ensure operational success.
As a result, the typical dictator in the workplace:
Assumes that the company exists for them – A dictatorial leader equates everything back to them. Any decision, success, or need somehow relates to their needs, ideas, or actions. Their inflated view of themselves leaves no room for recognizing the contribution of others sets up a mindset amenable to control and infallibility.
Equates respect with fear – Different leaders garner respect in different manners and with varying levels of success. The dictatorial leader typically relies on fear to motivate compliance as well as productivity. The leader creates an aura of being tough, resilient, and uncompromising. Periodically, the leader bullies or punishes someone to create an example of action to reinforce his or her words. Put simply, they assume that a fearful employee is a productive employee and fear serves as the best motivator.
Controls above all else – A dictatorial leader assumes that employees are incapable of doing anything correctly in the absence of their insight and guidance. They are the consummate micro-managers and feel they are at their best when they are ensuring that everyone is where they should be and doing what they should be doing. The dictatorial leader must know everything that everyone is doing and provide guidance to each step of any process.
Possesses infallibility – A dictatorial leader fails to perceive that they can ever be wrong. All decisions, actions, and interactions appear perfect to the dictator when completed by the dictator. As a result, this type of leader has little need for the input or opinions of others. When they do solicit input, it is little more than a ruse.
What effect does this type of leader have on the workforce? Considerable research points to negative personal and professional cost of dealing with a dictatorial leader. Most would agree that it is not easy to be productive or happy in a fearful, tense, and stressed environment on a constant basis for any length of time.
A recent survey by HCS solicited 500 employees across different industries working for someone they identified as an authoritarian or dictatorial leader and asked them to identify the three most common effects it has on them. A lack of engagement occurred most often. Approximately 78 percent of respondents categorize themselves as disengaged due to their current leader’s style. Similarly, 64 percent rated their stress as high on a consistent basis in the workplace and away. The final three most occurring repercussions pertained to a low level of trust, feelings of resentment, and concerns with favoritism accounting for 54, 49, and 39 percent, respectively.
If your organization harbors a few dictatorial leaders, you should ask yourself if the cost to your organization and employees equals the value of their contribution.