Be A Benevolent Dictator…The Best Leaders Are






Management is hard, and we could all stand to do it better. Those of you who listen to the radio show know that I am not shy about mocking the bad managers of the business world and describe them as ‘dinosaurs,’ ‘heads in the sand,’ and ‘the walking dead’ in a derogatory and judgmental manner. I’ve even had occasion to be less than diplomatic by calling bad leaders ‘ignorant bastards.’ Too many leaders and managers are genuinely terrible at their job. Leadership is a very challenging. It is so much harder than most are willing to give deference to, and thus, they are unprepared and ineffective. Then they result to leading by fear or force, which are the cornerstones of the insecure and irrelevant leader.

It is easy to bag on the crappy leaders out there, so let’s be smarter and talk about how to prepare so you have a better chance at being a good one. Effective leadership means checking your ego at the door, though you have to have a healthy one to have the audacity to anoint yourself the CEO of your venture in the first place. And if someone else has donned this title upon you then your ego has already been unreasonably stoked by having been handed the keys to the castle. However, this also means that you have to put aside the notion of whether or not anyone likes you in favor for ensuring productivity. You aren’t there to be liked. You are there to build long-term value. So who cares if your employees want to have a beer with you after work? You must prioritize productivity in the venture over your personal want to be adored by others. This isn’t a license to be an asshole. That puts you in the bad manager category. Leading by fear or force means you aren’t smart enough or secure enough to allow your management skills derive solutions. So keep your damn ego in check!

After you’ve done that, you have a chance at being an effective leader. You will realize that you don’t have a bunch of people beholden to you. Rather you will be constantly reminded of the many mouths you are responsible for feeding. And if you are going to be good at your job, you need to feed your fiefdom first and yourself absolutely last.

Excellent and optimal management in a business is that of a benign dictatorship, not a democracy. Democracy is a nice word that makes for a nice sound byte, and I know that no one wants to be associated with a dictator. But, we aren’t talking about Benito Mussolini. So if you have some aversion to the term, get over it. While democracy might be an optimal structure for governments or other cooperatives, for a company (for profit or not) democracy can not only be counter-productive toward value creation, but it may actually be detrimental. A benign dictatorship is the most effective structure to align all the incentives within your company toward goal achievement and building long-term value.

A benevolent dictator will have the impetus to hire excellent people that will work symbiotically with his or her leadership as it best meets the needs of the company. The onus is on the good leader to ensure such a process is done to drive the value of the company, while recruiting and vetting their lieutenants with the corresponding contemplation and thorough due diligence. An excellent dictator will also be so clear and consistent (to the extent possible) about the path to achieve long term value to the company that the lieutenants will undoubtedly understand their role well enough to be strong thinkers for themselves. A great dictator doesn’t hire people who think like they do, they are secure enough to demand additional perspectives knowing this breadth will bring about innovation and significantly greater value to the venture. Don’t be a pathetic sap that surrounds yourself with a bunch of ‘yes men’ who disingenuously placate you in order to feel validated. Demand better of yourself. Be smart, be prepared, and be patient!


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