Biased Justification for Poor Leadership

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

I just finished reading an article published by Entrepreneur.com written by George Cloutier: The Turnaround Ace. The title of the article is Your Company Is not a Democracy: The most effective leaders are benevolent dictators who hold employees accountable. It brought back memories of several jobs I have had so I thought, in the spirit of American Independence Day, I’d declare independence for the people employed (no, enslaved) by the 6000 companies he claims to have helped.

First, I appreciate the author’s experience with turnarounds. Most turnaround efforts are more about profits and performance.  We have written before that there is a difference between good leadership and effective leadership. He is clearly describing effective leaders, not necessarily good ones. Some of the things he says are right on. Employees must be held accountable. You should fire incompetent employees. Everything is not up for a vote. Profits are necessary and the boss’s responsibility. No boss can blame their people for the failure of an organization.

But it ends there. You see, I expect I have a lot more experience than the author working under one of his tyrants.  The benevolent tyrants as the author calls them, might consider how their employees feel.  In fact, the author might consider how the employees of his clients feel.  They go to work every day knowing that in their boss’s eyes, they don’t matter and they can’t do anything about it. I read another of the author’s posts where he stated he has 150 employees.  I’m glad I’m not one of them.

The author suggests that there are only two polar opposites, fail or dictate.  He goes into such detail that I really thought they were joking in publishing the article. Maybe they are. Here are some quotes:

  1. [Small business owners] have to execute their battle plans with as few flaws as possible.
  2. The only opinion that counts is that of ownership.
  3. Your employees… will respect the benevolent dictator who keeps the business afloat and continues to cut them a paycheck. If they don’t like the size of their paycheck, tell them to work harder and you may reward them if they meet your standards. (emphasis, mine)
  4. Be a dictator.
  5. Tell your employees, “Don’t think – obey.”
  6. Be a feared general.
  7. Fear is the best motivator.
  8. It’s better to drive your employees nuts than to lose money.

I can’t go on. I’ve worked for too many of these types. This article is the reason why there is a revolution going on today. Employees are declaring independence, leaving jobs and going on their own, because of tyrants just like this. If I have to wrangle carts or mow yards for a living, I’d do it to keep from working for another one of these “my way or the highway” types. Here are at least 5 reasons why:

  1. You’re not getting my labor, you’re getting my life. A paycheck is a pittance for that. My best energy and my best effort is worth more than money, it’s worth respect. You can sell the company tomorrow, you can lay me off. And then what do I have. I don’t trust you to look out for me. You just said it yourself, ownership is the only thing that matters. We know who matters to you and we’re tired of supporting it!
  2. People always give more than you can demand or scare out of them. It’s a gift. Read Linchpin, or Drive. We won’t give our best to a tyrant. You will never get our best for just a paycheck because we have to keep some energy in reserve to look out for our family.
  3. Where do you get off thinking you’re better than us? Do you think you know more about the actual work that we do every day? When was the last time you did it? Maybe if you asked instead of telling, you’d find a better way to do things.
  4. We don’t want you to take a vote, and we don’t want the business to fail. There’s a difference between respecting someone’s input and following popular opinion.  No one is asking you to ruin the business or to try to get us all to like you.  We won’t like you very much if the business fails either.  But there are more than two ways to do anything. If another company can be profitable and bless the people who invest their lives in the effort, then I will forget you and your crap about knowing the best way to do things the minute I can. I’d chew off my arm to get away from your place. And for the record, I have left a company before just to have the time to look for another job.
  5. Tyrants aren’t perfect either.

The attitudes in the article prove a couple of things to me. First, some publishers will go to any lengths to get someone to read their crap. I’m highly disappointed by this magazine and I’m disappointed by SmartBrief for passing it along and calling it leadership.  I hope more people in the leadership world rail against stuff like this. Second, when the job market swings back (and it will) all of his clients will be calling people who agree more with me.  The reason: everyone else will be leaving.  If you’re an entrepreneur and you buy this crap, you deserve what you get when it turns around.

No business exists only for its owners and customers. That’s horse manure. A truly sustainable business values and treasures the people who invest their lives in its success. It’s not easy and it’s not black and white.  But if the company you are working for doesn’t appreciate your investment in it’s success, throw some tea in the harbor and find another place to work.

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Marty Caise  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

OH MY!!!! I just couldn’t resist, I had to go find this article you read and get a gander at it myself. I just could not believe there are educated experienced folks out there that truly believe this. I have seen the uneducated and bad managers who believe this, but people like this usually do not stay in positions that long.

I look at these points and just see a guide to anarchy and employee turnover. Unfortunately I have seen this first hand in positions I have held in the past and it is not only a moral killer but promotes so much distrust and the sense of mediocre performance that leaders, owners and their organizations fail and it is employees who are blamed… almost always by the poor leaders.

A message to the tyrants… Wanna be a tyrant? Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you would work for the person you are looking at, knowing you are under appreciated, distrusted, and forced to work under less than ideal conditions.

Mike Henry  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I was surprised too. This was published in a global magazine and then SmartBrief on Leadership actually distributed it in today’s newsletter! This is why I have tried to distinguish between “effective” leadership and “good” leadership. You can be effective and still be very bad.

Thanks, Mike…

Lissa Millspaugh  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike, thanks for the review. I, too, have been subjected to this behavior, which is so truly demeaning to both the employer and the employee. I believe that when balance is restored to the economy, those companies who decided to treat staff like cattle, rather than the brains and hearts who will make the company succeed, will be running to their board rooms to re-strategize, or die. Mr. Cloutier’s 15 minutes of fame will be over. Vive la Liberte!

p.s. if he lists any of his clients, you should probably plan to call on them in a few months. They’ll need you.

Mike Henry  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the note Lissa. I’m still astonished that they published the article. The more things change…


Ted Coine  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike, not only could I not have said it better, but I want to thank you for jumping on this “high blood pressure handgranade” so I don’t have to!

Not that the author wasn’t in earnest, because I too have worked for a like-minded Attila The Hun or two (or ten!), but still: at this point in societal development, in 2010 for goodness sake! – all you can do with a bozo like this is laugh. Right. In. His. Bad-karma face.

Mike Henry  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I do think this proves that we’ve really not “come all that far” from our caveman days. It seems there will always be someone who thinks that because they have money or position or power they can tell everyone else what to do. The only way this makes any sense is if you never put yourself in the other person’s shoes. I do wonder how Atilla would feel.


Mike Myatt  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike:

I read the article in question earlier today and almost fell out of my chair in astonishment that Entrepreneur would publish such rubbish. I’ve had the pleasure of being published and quoted in Entrepreneur, and now the luster is fading fast.

You are spot-on with your observations that the opinions of Mr. Cloutier represent deeply flawed logic, and last I checked, pompous arrogance has little to do with being an effective leader.

Mike Henry  |  02 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment. I thought it was a spoof until I read some of the other stuff this “columnist” has published. If they just hadn’t called it “leadership.”


Bruno Coelho  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply


Your review comes with several key points to remember and apply in any business.

The kind of leadership style, that the author advocates, could work in the industrial revolution era. But even in those days, Henry Ford’s scientific management was based on observing, listening and measuring the employee’s work to make the necessary performance tune ups.

Today, the most advanced economies aren’t competing in the industrial era league. They’re competing in the knowledge era league! The globalization and the speed of technological evolution has changed the way business compete and work. In the industrial era the focus was mass production. Today, the focus is personalized innovation. Today, the employee knows much more about the what, why, where and the how of building the product/service than his boss. Today, the employee plays a critical role in the way that customers experience a brand by delivering a world-class customer experience.

The leadership style must adapt to this new reality. The new leadership style should focus on People and Results. And in this order because without People, I absolutely guarantee you that, you can NOT achieve any successful Results.
Caring about your employees doesn’t make you a weak leader… it shows that you’re humble enough to recognize that you can’t make everything by your own and that you appreciate the choice that every employee made to choose YOU as a employer.
Praise your employees when they achieve great results. Redirect them when they should know better. Do this, and you will build a great team and a great business.

Bottom line is: you can lead in fundamental two ways. Through fear or through respect. If you choose the first option, sooner or later your followers will say: that’s enough! History has shown us this over and over again. If you choose the second option, then the chances are great that you’ll make an impact in the World.

The choice is up to you.

Thank you Mike for sharing this with us.

Best regards,
Bruno Coelho

Mike Henry  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Well said that you can lead through fear or respect.

I remain amazed that these “tyrants” think they’re the only ones smart enough to do what it will take for the organization to succeed. But miraculously, they’re smart enough to run a company but they’re not smart enough to help their employees understand the goal in a way that encourages them to achieve the organizations goals and their own best interests at the same time! So you can own a company and be a genius, knowing the best way to do everything, but you can’t convince all those dumb people who work for you, so you have to scare them or run them off. If the owner’s so smart, why can he or she convince all of the rest of us how great our lives will be when we’ve made them wealthy?


Bruce  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I think the key to the original article is the adjective ‘small’ attached to the word ‘business.’

A lot of big thinkers in the organizational behavior game have acknowledged that what it takes to start something and run something small and growing is radically different from what it takes to scale it and sustain it over time. David Hearst referred to the distinction as ‘hunters vs herders’. As someone who has run his own small firm for 14 years, I can promise you that the generally accepted definition of a nurturing, empowering team leader is next to useless in this context. A small company’s right to exist is usually anchored in distinctiveness, and distinctiveness is neither accomplished nor protected by running some kind of happy little commune. I’ll stop short of agreeing with the author that dictatorship is the only way to lead a small company. But I will tell you that if I had to do it over again, I would trade a lot of generous staff bonuses and individual autonomies and personal development opportunities for a little more committed, focused visionary dictatorship. As a leader, my regret is not that I was not kinder, but that I was not more assertive.

Mike Henry  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Bruce, thanks for the comment. If I could do anything it would be to convince one small business owner that there is a different choice to be made. I don’t see it as kindness vs. assertiveness. I see it as what Simon Sinek called the two ways we can get people to do something, inspire or manipulate. You had trouble inspiring them. I understand that. It’s not easy. Some bad hires never get inspired. Some jobs are harder. (I have been in the trucking industry.) So the default is to manipulate, either by being a tyrant or being more assertive, or just telling people to “do it my way.” I agree that the default cooks off to manipulate or fail. That’s what the article that prompted this was saying. He was arguing for a particular way to manipulate people. It never occurred to him to inspire them.

Employees (most) take a job looking to do their best for themselves first but also knowing it’s not them vs. the owner. (Not all. I’m not naive.) We start with energy. But over time that energy is spent. After months or years of manipulation, with little or no attempt to re-energize us with inspiration, we give up. The owners manipulate and we stop responding to anything else and neither of us likes it. It’s a chicken and egg thing. Owners need to accept responsibility for their inability to inspire and employees need to accept responsibility for being so hard to inspire. Writing articles about how to manipulate better will never be the best answer.


Bruce  |  03 Jul 2010  | 

Reading your thoughtful reply – I twigged to your reference to trucking – it occurs to me that my reaction to the original piece might be a bit parochial. In the business I work in, a lot of firms function on what one trade writer recently called ‘The Jesus Model’, in which someone very internally driven and talented tries to leverage his or her personal asset by building a company around it. In this setting, you’re not trying to institutionalize values or processes; you’re actually trying to create a cult of personality, because that’s precisely and conditionally what your customer is paying for.

Faced with that challenge, you can understand why an entrepreneur might get a bit wistful at the idea of dictatorship…

Mike Henry  |  03 Jul 2010  | 

I do understand and I’ve been there. I managed (very poorly, I might add) a branch office of a family freight company. I wasn’t the total dictator. There were moments when we were an inspired functional organization, but generally I was a weak tyrant. Only later, comparing the inspired team to the weak tyrant, I came to begin understand the difference. I was so tired for those years as manager because of the effort I was exerting to try to manipulate and control everyone. It did seem like it would have been great if it had only worked!

Thanks very much for the insightful remarks.


Ted Kusio  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Now I know what people who still support the “beatings will continue until moral improves” silliness read.

Thanks for sharing, and for debunking.

Mike Henry  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I laughed out loud. Thanks for the comment Ted.

Dave Martin  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Bravos, Mike. Thanks for bringing this issue some much needed attention. My sense is Mr. Cloutier is not a leader at all but rather a manager. His mindset, as illustrated by remarks here, suggest his continuing involvement in a cohort from the last century that was obsessed with the finer points of “financial engineering” (e.g., ruthless P&L optimization). In my experience, while folks like Mr. Cloutier may indeed be effective in managing quarterly income statements they typically fail to add the value(s) needed to grow the business. The dirty little secret about these guys, and they are most often older white men, is they lack the skill set required to lead. Moreover, they fail to grok the proper role of leadership which includes bringing out the best in people and respecting every person on the payroll as talent. Great leaders set the stage for greatness, create the environment needed for success to happen and they accept this reality: the only person they must manage to be successful is the person that will always prove the most difficult of all to manage – themselves.

Mike Henry  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment Dave. I replied to Bruce above that you can inspire or manipulate. Mr. Cloutier has apparently abandoned inspiration. I know many people who believe that the effort to inspire people is just not part of their job. I think they could develop the skills and they may have had them at one time, but now they think that everyone should just come to work and do their job. They always focus on the shortcomings of some “other” person rather than focusing on doing whatever they can to ensure success. That’s a shame because they also miss the true joy of being part of a self-motivated energized community.

But I do know a lot of people (even some older white guys :-) like me) who are energized by the idea of being part of an inspired culture where everyone brings energy and emotional effort to the work. They don’t do everything right, but they manage conflict and accountability with respect and perform their roles for the community (organization) and their own well being. Those are great organizations!


uxdesign.com  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I think what we’re dealing with here is less to do with management “style” and more to do with narcissism and a kind of power fetish that has been fostered by industrial age models of “management” designed to maintain the submission of labor.

Now we are supposedly in the information service age, but until we deal with and modify org structures so that info (signal) transmission can flow from the hands (those in touch with people outside of the org) back in to the brain (those ostensibly controlling the hand) then the manipulations that Cloutier promotes will continue to cripple our economic/social/environmental health (society as organism).

Mike Henry  |  05 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I agree that the top-down leadership model found it’s sweet-spot during the industrial revolution. And during any big sweeping transition like we’re seeing in the workplace today, the old ways seem to “work” for quite some time. The good news is I think the author’s type of management solves the problems caused by weak leaders who tend to try to be popular or who get stuck never making a decision. But he doesn’t solve them by making them strong leaders. He solves them by making them weak in another way.

Thanks for the great comment. Mike…

Alan Hill  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I read the article. I think it’s telling that there’s not a ‘comment’ button anywhere on George’s blog.
That tells me everything I need to know about him.
Usually people like him have never been in the military.

I remember a Lieutenant telling me once (in sincerity) that when he graduated West Point he thought he was going to be a god, walk on water and everyone was going to have to obey him. And then he got to his unit and found out it just wasn’t so.
I applauded the young LT for his new found wisdom.

Important to realize however, that he’s not selling to employees. He’s selling to desperate entrepreneurs who have only one last chance, him. Or to Investors who only see ROI. “How’ is irrelevant.
As long as they pay his paycheck, they buy what they want. short term results.

Alan Hill  |  03 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I recently wrote a blog post about people in this situation.

I learned long ago that employees are never powerless in the face of tyrants. My mom taught me that – accidently.
You can read more about how you as an employee can still ruin and resist 0r support success.
The point, employees have choices besides leave or bow down.

Mike Henry  |  05 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the great comments Alan. You use a great phrase: “employees are never powerless” in your response. Employees do have a choice and they often take it. The problem is they have the same regard for the owner as the owner showed for them. It’s not sustainable at all. When the pendulum swings back, the employees will over-react too. No one ever stops the merry-go-round to create a sustainable business.

Thanks for chipping in. Mike…

Jane Perdue  |  05 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Great post, Mike.

I believe that “what goes around, comes around” so my wish for Mr. Cloutier is that his future includes working for someone who “leads” just like he does!

Mike Henry  |  05 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks Jane. I’m with you on that one!


Tom Harper  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike, I’ve come to understand the reason why the way of leadership you describe works. It’s because it’s the biblical way. I’ve studied every book of the Bible & come up with leadership principles from each that completely agree with you.

Keep writing stuff like this!
Tom Harper, author of Leading from the Lions’ Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (2010, B&H)

Judy White SPHR GPHR HCS  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Interestingly , Towers Perrin (ISR) found that high-engagement firms experienced an EPS (earnings-per-share) growth rate of 28% compared to an 11.2% decline for low-engagement firms.
If profit, were truly the objective for this owner, than earning employee’s value and respect would be top priority.

Sadly, for many tyrants the sole objective is about power and control.

The good news is more 21st Century Workplaces are turning the tables and are adopting new rules of engagement where people and customers thrive!

Thanks for the insightful post!


michael hazel  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the rebuttal – I thought it was a resurrected article from the ’50s. Certainly Mr. Cloutier has experience and his words have bearing on the short term turn around or when a company is in crisis mode. My experience tells me that mindset is great for the short term, not long term sustainability. Who says employees have to like you? Mr C. is correct about that. They do however need to respect you AND want to work for you. Managing through fear is simply managing for the short term – until they find another job or otherwise exit. I can’t imagine the amount of creativity that would be lost if my employees were not encouraged to participate. A man’s foolish if he thinks he’s got all the ideas and can plot the only possible direction all the time. This style of management is easy, weak, and does nothing to foster real creativity and entrepreneurship in an organization.

Vivien H.  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

What a debate! I wouldn’t have it because I don’t have much time to waste. You can’t blame someone for having a set of ideas that are different from yours.
What you ought to do in my opinion, and that’s what I always do is to pick up what you “like” and leaving the rest to other people. I read George’s article last week, I didn’t care about how right or wrong he was, I just picked up what I liked and left the rest to Mike. I just read Mike’s article and I also picked up what I liked and left the rest to George or his disciple who will surely fight back.
Don’t get me wrong, I do participate in debates, but not the kinds of the chicken or the egg, which was first?
Mike I liked your article. Thanks for it. Good day

Mike Henry  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Vivien, thanks for the comment. I understand your perspective. I am often that way myself. This just hit so close to home I didn’t consider it a waste of time. I’m by no means suggesting that this was evil, but Edmund Burke’s quote still applies as I paraphrase. All that is necessary for the triumph of benevolent tyrants is for good men to do nothing. I couldn’t do nothing. The great thing about the Internet is that now, many more people can do something constructive. Mike…

Kelly Riggs  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Cloutier: “I’m a big proponent of the “just view me as god” school of management.” You MUST be kidding. Mike, I first saw this article last week and I was stunned. My first thought was to reply in a blog post – but I decided to let it stew over the long weekend. Glad I did! I enjoyed reading your reply much more than I would have enjoyed producing my own!
As long as tyrants can be successful in business, there will always be someone like Cloutier to volunteer to be that tyrant.

Chef Paul  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Great article. Been there done that! What I do find interesting, is typically in a small business, the ownership is made up of several members, or at least the owner has close confidants, in the company or around them who share the same socio-economic background. They tend to form a homogeneous group, meaning they think alike. This is why diversity in general terms works well in small businesses. Just because all executives think alike does not mean they are right. In fact, I have seen many a small company sink because of their inability to look ‘outside’ their circle for help and expertise.

Another significant problem with this leadership style is your top performers are always looking to better themselves, period. Be it with you or someone else. If you have this blanket iron-first policy, it wears your top performers to the point of loss of employment. The irony here is top performers do not leave you for another industry, they go to your competitor! So you are eventually left with a bunch of complacent employees you have no desire to excel or grow. They are quite happy punching the clock. This is can be reason number six of why the iron-fist technique rarely works long-term.

Bill  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Very nice article Mike. I’ve recently left an establishment after a year because the owner’s wife wanted me to be a dictator. She expected perfection from them at all times. I explained that if an employee can’t do their job they should be let go, but don’t deserve to be sworn at and disrespected. Needless to say, it was inevitable that I couldn’t stay due to our opposite management styles. The employees did come in for extra shifts when I asked and not for her. They would tell me that the only reason they would work extra is because I asked. You are correct; no one wants to work for a boss like that. It’s only a matter of time before the smart workers leave. When I left, 3 of our best employees left a week after me.

Kevin W. Grossman  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

The first time I read the article, I hemmed and hawed mildly, thought there were a few valid points, then moved on.

The first time I read your post, I awoke to the fact that the tyrant article was more than just hogwash…but, I wouldn’t disparage the pubs for publishing it because the contrast of freedom of speech and spillage — and positive contrast like yours — really shines a lot brighter on the truth.

Thank you, Mike.

Stu M  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

wow! Mike, thank God for your response–when I read the original I thought I was caught in some weird parallel universe where black was white and vice versa. Granted, there are times of crisis when people just need to do what they’re told, or follow the plan, but I can’t imagine a sustainable operation of any kind where you don’t want your employees to think. But Cloutier says it has worked for him, so, like Vivien says, take it or leave it. But I wonder if he is like the talk radio jocks who stir things up for the sake of publicity. (?)

Kathleen Jaffe  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Oh, my. When I read that article last week, I had precisely the same reaction as you: I kept waiting for the punchline, and was astonished when there wasn’t one. I’m planning a post on it as well for later this week (needed to let my righteous indignation settle down a bit).

Funny enough, the Times posted an interview with Linda Heasley from The Limited (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/business/04corner.html?_r=1&ref=business), and her position is the polar opposite of Cloutier’s.

Sadly, in OpEds, vituperation sells.

Justian P.  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike what a great article! I had a very similar reaction to the “Benevolent Dictators” article when I read it. I just recently within the last year chewed my arm off to get out of a secure and lucrative position underneath a dictator. George seems to forget that some of us in the working world do not live for the all mighty paycheck and the thought of being ever so gracious that someone in there infinite benevolence has granted us some money for our time will not suffice. Forsaking the mule to carry more goods only means there is more than one jack-ass on the trip.

There have been so many other post that I mimic in feeling. The leadership style that George touts harks back to the “good ol days”. The modern workforce is no longer willing to accept direction from such an antiquated stance. Employees feel isolated and feel a reduced sense of value under tyranny style leadership. Employees working under that regime will do two things well. 1) Just enough not to get fired 2) Leave in droves to find something or someone else to help them fill the void and a sense of value they deserve.

Adelina  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

What a great response and I completely agree with your conclusions. The working environment has changed so much that if an individual is unhappy with their particular environment be it from their boss or coworkers, its a lot easier to change jobs. Employers need to realized that in order to keep their talent and attract more people to work for them, they need to empower their employees, not belittle them and micromanage.

A. Smith  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Aloha Mike!
Mahalo for your post & commentary on Mr. Cloutier’s article advocating benevolent tyranny as leadership.
From experience, this quality of ‘leadership’ results in devastating organizational loss/departure of most collaborative/innovative creative folks. This shift often initiates a newly twisted organizational culture that is robotic, fear-based, cult-like, leader-ego-mirroring that best belongs to the unawakened Dark Ages, and does eventually lead to the ultimate demise of organizational integrity.
Mahalo for your thought-provoking articles. Will subscribe for more!

Yana  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Great response, thank you Mike! I was simply shocked reading the original article. I can imagined it being published in some other countries or centuries ago, but NOT here and now. It is also very encouraging to read all comments above! Thank you!

Michael McKinney  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Well done. This article is confused on so many levels as you and others have already said. What the “turnaround ace” is describing is not “benevolent dictatorship” but tyranny of the worst variety. There is no benevolence involved. It is only an inner focus with only incidental “rewards” for others. One of the problems with this article is the binary thinking it reflects. The only other option to the “benevolent dictatorship” he describes is not a “lovey-dovey approach.” It is the extremes that so often get us into trouble. He did succeed in shock-value and perhaps that is where some turnaround aces excel.

Lindsey Sparks  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I was shocked when I saw that article in SmartBrief last week. Like you, at first I thought it must be a joke and looked for the punch line. Then I realized he was for real. I asked myself how this guy could possibly be successful as a consultant, and realized it’s because he’s telling those types of people what they want to hear. But how many people is he hurting in the process? The week before this article came out, I quit my job primarily because of a tyrant-style “leader.” I accepted another job with a $23,000 pay cut because of her. I have never been happier to take a pay cut in my life. It is one of the best decisions I ever made. I tried for a year to help her grow and change, but she just kept getting worse. She had the exact attitude of “don’t think – obey” that he promotes in the article. Why are you paying me so much and why I do have a manager level position when you don’t want me to think? I left for an environment where I can voice my opinions and make a difference. That’s worth far more to me than the extra money I’d still be making in my last position. Thank you so much for following up on this article. I hated how they didn’t enable comments for the original article. Clearly he didn’t want people to think about his philosophy – he just wanted them to obey it.

Arminda  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike – excellent post. Thank you.

Three years ago I left a management position because I didn’t want to work for a tyrant any longer. I now train other managers on how to be more effective and provide valuable people skills necessary in order for everyone within an organization to succeed.

It’s amazing what a little bit of knowledge, empowerment & training will do for a team!

John Ellett  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike, all my instincts align with your nicely-stated rebuttal. Yet as I was writing about this today, I wondered if George’s advice isn’t getting lost in his anti-people bravado. Steve Jobs comes to mind. By imposing his will on Apple, he turned the company around and into one of the real success stories of our lifetime. There is no doubt “who is in charge” in Cupertino. But replicating a leadership model based on a rare genius is probably not a sound approach.

mark allen roberts  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Great Post,
Like you, I too have served many leaders who thought leadership was about being a dictator. Is it any wonder then that we hear leaders…heck even our president saying they need an ass to kick as I discuss in my blog: http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/what-should-you-do-if-you-report-to-an-%e2%80%9cass-kicker%e2%80%9d%e2%80%a6forgive-them/
However you don’t need to let the “kicking” flow down hill.

The quickest way to adjust is forgive the dictator so their behavior does not taint your leadership.

Mark Allen Roberts

Mike Henry  |  06 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks to everyone for all the great comments. I appreciate the ideas and articles that have been suggested. It would appear that people who agree with us are in the majority, but there is a bias here since we all tend to read the same literature. There are many people who read the post and agreed. Hopefully we can find and help more and more of them all the time.

Thanks again. Mike…

Tyrant Disliker  |  07 Jul 2010  |  Reply

The sad thing is… Many CEOs I’ve seen/worked with sound like the tyrants above. They have tantrums, storm out of meetings, yell and scream etc. Why are boards endorsing these folks?

Rick M  |  07 Jul 2010  |  Reply

What would be truly interesting is to find out what if any of the “6,000” companies are still in business? What have their sales or growth been since he left? What is the turnover?

I don’t totally disagree with his article, but I am with you when it comes to the long term success of any business; EVERYONE including the boss, has a hand in the success or the failure of a business.

Marty Caise  |  07 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Tyrant Disliker,
I can only speak from my own experiences… the endorsement sometimes is due to a misguided view of the passion of the person.

Savi Sharma  |  07 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I am disappointed to see the article passed along by SmartBrief. I have very high regard for this newsletter, and I hope SmartBrief would not do such mistake again

Mike Henry  |  07 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I hope you’re not talking about my article but rather the one from the magazine. I can understand how those things happen. They have to read a lot of articles a day. This was a “leadership” article. Besides, whether it was SmartBrief or Entrepreneur, there are many who agree with the author. I’d just prefer not to work for one again any time soon.


Heath Davis Havlick  |  08 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Umm…I think he left the “benevolent” part out of “benevolent dictator.” Yikes. It’s a classic example of someone not understanding that their personal worldview/workview is neither the best nor the only way to do things.

anna smith  |  09 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Wow, that article (George Cloutier’s) is a bunch of crap!

Sally  |  12 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I left a supposedly Christian charitable organization due to just such a leader. Despite my being a top contributor who did my boss’s job and was worth well more than double the paltry salary I was paid, the new CEO not only personally verbally attacked me but forced my boss to officially reprimand me–a first in my 12-year career. Naturally, I took the first opportunity I could to leave the organization and now work for a for-profit company whose leadership actually respects and appreciates my contributions. The amount of disgust I feel for my former CEO knows no end, and I can’t wait until the day that I can deliver some payback. I have already cancelled my $1500 yearly contribution to this organization and have told friends to do the same. I can’t believe that a leader like this can be promoted in any organization, much less one that calls itself a faith-based charity.

Glain Roberts-McCabe  |  12 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike… I couldn’t agree more with your post. This is the kind of thing that gets my blood boiling too. I spend a lot of time talking to leaders about their behaviours and, sometimes it feels like an uphill battle. As one of my members said to me: If I mismanage my budget I’ll be fired, but if I abuse the hell out of my staff to drive results, no one will say a word. Leading through fear and intimidation is easy and can drive – in the short-term – results and profits. We seem to live in a 12 month / quarterly business cycle where we don’t worry about the short-term effects of our actions on others, so long as the results are rolling in.

Motivating and engaging employees to WANT to drive results and take your business to higher levels is hard. It takes time and effort and a long-term commitment to making changes happen. Plus, it may mean that, from time to time, owners and managers have to sacrifice their own fat compensation plans to eat the downturns (which ALL businesses cycle through) just like everyone else, instead of going for the slash and burn quick fix of layoffs and downsizings.

The only positive about Cloutier’s article being published is that at least it shows that there is still more work to do to change the backwards viewpoints that he shares and let’s really bright people know where NOT to apply.

David Burkus  |  13 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I’ll confess. I have not read the article. However, I wanted to give some food for thought. I’ve been engaged in a conversation over a few months now about whether Jesus was truly a servant leader. In actuality, it appears he acted without considering the desires of his followers because he knew what was best for them, even better then they did. Benevolent tyrant?

Mike Henry  |  13 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Interesting twist. I should have known you’d come up with something like that. First of all, let me say that today, he lets us make our own choices. His word has put forth what’s best for us but we can take it or leave it. When he was present on the earth, he did what was best for us, but it cost him much more than it cost us. I don’t know too many of today’s “benevolent tyrants” who absorb all the cost. If one did, at some point they might have to do something like cut their own pay rather than laying off people. Doesn’t sound much like a tyrant to me. Interesting thoughts though. Thanks for the comment. Mike…

Duncan Whitcombe  |  17 Jul 2010  | 

I guess he was the ultimate: “the buck stops here”.

David Weale  |  15 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I couldn’t help but think about this, David. It struck me as a particularly challenging, and rightly asked question… But I wonder if anyone is truly qualified to respond, but here is a suggestion (that’s all it is).

Much of Jesus’ mission was based on moving peoples’ focus from OT commands to NT values (“you have heard it said… but I tell you…). But the change Jesus was bringing was change that was previously unavailable. In Jesus’ case, it would have been impossible for him to work with desires that were grounded in the way things were when his death on a cross was just about to ignite radically new possibilities. Surely Jesus was both leading and serving, more than any of us ever could. But he’s just in a totally different and incomparable category to the rest of us.

David Weale  |  14 Jul 2010  |  Reply

I posted a quote from Bill George (1983) on twitter the other day, “The business world has run off the rails, mistaking wealth for success & image for leadership”, and then asked “Has anything changed?”.

Happily I do actually believe that in some quarters it has, but not all. Nowhere near all. I have to say that new paradigms of leadership are really slow in catching on, especially in institutions where the culture permits dictatorship. However, these institutions are totally unsustainable, and I reckon that some of you guys should keep an eye out for where he’s been – they’ll be needing realignment very soon.

I’m willing to bet that this guy forces conformity, causing fearful people to follow or get out, but in dynamic environments, the resulting loss of creativity and innovation will be devastating. Seriously, who would want to put forth an idea?

Mike’s right in the original response. I have also worked under too many dictatorships/rulerships/whatever you want to call it. It’s not been fun. When the management team are under that kind of pressure, the only thing that matters is today’s bottom line – meet it and you get to live another day! How can that bring meaningful change?

I am hesitant to call it leadership though – it’s a particular bone of contention for me, but the way I see it is that if you are pushing or coercing then you are not actually leading. Maybe the world terms it leadership – but I ask you, is it?

becky  |  23 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Mike – A friend just shared your article with me, and I love it! I could not agree with you more. What Mr. Cloutier said completely contradicts research my firm just published in conjunction with Cornell University. I can send you details directly if you are interested, but for now, you should check out this link: http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/story.jsp?storyId=475354765 It does pay to treat people well – literally!

Mike Henry  |  23 Jul 2010  |  Reply

Thanks for the great feedback and information. I will check it out.


working girl  |  02 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Just to be devil’s advocate, I wouldn’t mind working for a benevolent dictator if they could actually be relied on to know more than me, make better decisions than me and cover my back. Unfortunately that leaves a vanishingly small list of people I’d be happy to take dictation from.

Graham Shevlin  |  08 Aug 2010  |  Reply

This guy is merely justifying the perpetuation of the “leader as asshole” pathology already deconstructed by people like Robert Sutton.
One old saying that corporations who sign on to the “leader as asshole” approach would do well to remember is “revenge is a dish best eaten cold”. Right now, from my own (admittedly anecdotal experience) there are a lot of employees in the USA working for the sort of dysfunctional leaders that this author appears to venerate. Once the economy recovers, I expect that a lot of those employees will execute on their plan to eat a cold dish and will fire their employer (and by extension, the employer’s asshole leaders).
I have seen the “leader as asshole” tendency become very deeply ingrained in US business culture over the last 4-5 years. Like all fixed leadership styles, it has a finite shelf-life that is about to be passed.

Mike Henry  |  09 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Well said. I think the number of these types of leaders is on the decline, but the old way of doing things just seems to generate more press. We have an old-technology magazine running an old-style leadership article. Until all of the styles with an expired shelf-life are removed, we’re still going to be exposed to these types of ideas in the marketplace. Thanks for the great comment. Mike…

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