Biased Justification for Poor Leadership

I just finished reading an article published by 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.

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