Understanding Great Leadership – Part 2

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Understanding Great Leadership

The Problems With Ultimate Power

You may now be wondering what the place of the Absolute Monarch / Dictator is in corporations. Do they have a place. You might be assuming the answer is no, they don’t.   If you are thinking this then you are only sort of right. The question is wrong.  It isn’t a question of what place it’s more of a question of what’s useful or not.  But more about that later.

Let’s get back to you.  If you examined your leadership style would we find any of the dictator in you.  If you find you are snappish, domineering, controlling, intimidating then your inner emperor is well developed.  If you continue to let them rule with insufficient restraint what will it cost you.  You will be causing yourself more anger, frustration and isolation than you need to?  You are training your people to become anxious, worried, frightened and resentful.  This cannot be good for business.  In fact it becomes a massive drag on effectiveness.  What’s more there are vastly more effective alternatives that will see you leading and getting the best out of yourself and them, decreasing drags and increasing efficiency.

You might be wondering what the alternatives are?  What kind of a leader are you and what type do you want to be?  What is the best type of leader?  We will be answering these questions but for now lets put an end to any aspirations for the illusion of absolute power.

What’s in This Post

In this post I am going to finish our examination of the strengths and weaknesses of “UPL” Ultimate Power Leadership.  The idea that leadership is about one person having all the power and authority under which everyone else is subjugated.

My aim is to completely convince you that any Ultimate Power Leadership model is a train crash waiting to happen.  It’s an illusion with a lot of hidden traps and inefficiencies and a few disasters thrown in for good measure.  I am hoping that you won’t be tempted to try to develop this type of leadership in your organisation. There are far easier and better ways to harness the talent of your people.

The Illusion of Ultimate Power.

Coercive power CAN make people take action and do what you want.  Which can make you falsely think it is a good idea.  In truth there may be some occasions where by you have to just tell people what to do and you may have to compel them to do it.  But be aware that the use of coercion, threat, intimidation,  aggression to compel people into action almost always comes at a cost. If nothing more than the coerced become angry frustrated and resentful, lose heart and become ineffective.  But it can be a lot worse.

The direct harmful effects

Some of the direct effects of constant directiveness under the threat of execution are, fear, anger, resentment, frustration of the people you subjugate.  The direct problems don’t stop there, think about this it will also keep the Uber Boss angry, frustrated and resentful.  Remember if you are demonstrating, anger, frustration and resentment you are also experiencing it.  What’s that going to do for your satisfaction and fulfillment.  What’s more this state of being will start to infect your decisions.  You’ll likely become reactive, impulsive and punitive, not more effective.  These effects are almost always certain to happen.

When Control, Threat Cycles Becomes Entrenched Patterns of Leadership

If this cycle of interaction continues the coerced or compelled will become increasingly anxious and less likely to take the initiative and invest their brains into the delivery of your plans.  You teach them TO BECOME DEFENSIVE AND NOT INVEST IN YOUR PLANS, because coercion destroys autonomy.

If this cycle of management continues your people may start trying to second guess the safest route possible in order to avoid any punitive action their leader may take. Notice I said the safest route possible not the most effective or efficient.  Needless to say the inefficiencies are going to continue to mount up over time and may well become insurmountable.

Over time many of “the compelled” will begin to hate the Ultimate Power/Dictator/Super Boss. What’s more the Ultimate Power person becomes the cause of enormous drag on the decision making process.  Decisions won’t be made lest the deciders get approval from their “Uber Lord”  and simultaneously they will be frightened to even approach you for fear of punishment.  Worse than this, your people may even start to feed you safe information in order to avoid conflict.

These processes will and do happen in organisations.  They are a big source of inefficiency and they massively limit results.  So do an audit now and see how you rate on the tendency to let your inner Emperor / Empress out.  Give yourself a score out of 100 for the number of problems you are causing yourself let alone the problems you cause the people you lead.

Hopefully your number won’t be over 5.  Then to get a real understanding of how inefficient this becomes multiply your score for each time this cycle occurs and you have the inefficiency coefficient. But guess what.  The pain doesn’t stop there.  Now multiply your in-efficiency coefficient by the in-efficiency coefficients of the subjugated (that’s your staff) and now sit down and take a moment’s pause.   Let me tell you it is a big number.  It’s simply staggering how quickly the problems compound.   That’s the bad news.  The good news is with incremental improvements in effectiveness you quickly build large efficiencies into your  people system and start to reap the rewards in bottom line sooner than you might think.

The Secondary Harmful Effects

When you use coercive power too frequently you train a significant proportion of the population of people to get used to your rants and threats and over time.  Which means they have less and less effect.  If coercion is the only string in your bow you will have to escalate your threat levels over time as your power to influence behaviour weakens.  This becomes a vicious cycle and will either see an escalation in hostilities.  This does happen in organisations today.  Just look at the events that occurred in Australian Federal politics over the last 10 years.

If this goes on long enough the a critical mass of the ruled become more and more immune to fear and intimidation.  This ultimately means you must invest huge amounts of time energy and effort in keeping the ruled behaving.  You have the foundations of a police state.

We have many examples of this around the world of Geopolitics and we know how these events end.  For an organisation it becomes a nightmare of effort and ineffectiveness. Micro managing, monstrous reporting requirements, too many meetings, lowered confidence and moral.  Needless to say this ultimately becomes a massive waste of resources.  The promise of ultimate power begins to crumble under the weight of it’s own control processes.

Dictatorship stops the dictated investing their brains in the process of getting things done.  Over a fairly short period of time they become automatons passively waiting for your next directive doing nothing to incur your disapproval.  I am hoping you can see the Tsunami order inefficiencies that will follow from such a situation.

But there is more that is worse it can create so much anger and resentment that if your value to your people as a leader is exceeded by their dislike of you or the problems you cause and if they stop fearing your coercive power you have the beginnings of a rebellion. If this happens your business will start to bleed staff as they seek refuge in other organisations.  If they can’t leave they simply become uninvested and disengaged.  If they have the power to remove you they will try.  If they can’t they are likely to leave draining the organisation of good talent.  Once the crumbling begins in earnest the organisational power brokers will likely either jump ship or mount a Coup De Gras.  This can never be good.

It’s True, Some People Don’t Play Nice

Unfortunately it is true that there are some in power who are their only to satisfy themselves.  They would argue that staying in power is worth the harm they cause because they don’t care.  At least they get to indulge in spoils of high office for a while. Some are ok with slash and burn, yell scream, threaten and intimidate as a means of managing people. Some even enjoy it.  It is true these particular personality types do exist and it is true that we need to take this into account when we design our ideas around leadership.

Fighting Fire With Fire.

Knowing that some people don’t play nice I often get asked if it is a good idea to fight fire with fire.  This might seem a good justification for the use of force.  In other words they try to justify the use of coercive power and authority in order to quell bullying and intimidation.  If you think this you are suggesting that force is effective at resolving conflict.  Not true.  If you fight fire with fire you get a bigger fire.  Unless you have the resources to completely crush opposition you only destroy yours and their resources in the process of neutralizing.  In extreme cases this might be a good short term strategy, yes you may need to fight, but as a long term game plan it is a catastrophe.

Sometimes I’ve had executives suggest that you have to threaten or throw your power around to get respect.  Or at times as a matter of self defence because some people don’t play nice. Or so people don’t walk all over you.  There is a problem in this kind of thinking.  It is not whether might is right.  It is a question of usefulness both short and long term.  You don’t want to practice negative combative cycles if you can avoid it.  They tend to start to take on a life of their own and end in with mutual harm and destruction.  Besides their are many far better alternatives.

Certainly in the world at large and very often in organisations people aren’t always nice Sometimes they are ruthless and aggressive.   When this happens you may have to take on the fight so you don’t get eaten by the sharks.  Sometimes you may have to take the fight to them so you don’t get brushed aside.  I’m not disputing that.   How you take on the fight is what matters and it really can only be a short term strategy.  All things being equal strategy will always beat brute force.  But I’d recommend you spend most of your time learning how to be clever and don’t worry about being threatening.

So What’s the Bottom Line

Dictators do more harm than good.  They may even limit their own success often without knowing it.  Their lives will be covered in strife and conflict.  Above all the Absolute Monarch / King / Queen / Emperor / Empress / Super Boss and sometime executioner is not the most efficient model of leadership we have available. There are far easier and better ways to mobilise the resources of people.

The idea that absolute power invested in one person is a great way to lead to folly.

In the Next Post

In the next post we’re going to look at the Visionary/Prophet/Messiah/Trail Blazer idea of leadership.  Once again it has merit and it also has some big limitations.

For now just think about the things we have been examining and see if you can’t modify your own ideas of leadership and make them more effective.




Series Navigation<< Understanding Great Leadership – Part 1Great Leadership The Visionary >>