Whenever I have to interview managers for any top executive role, I always ask, “So what’s most important to you, result or relationship”?
Over to you, what’s most important to you, result or relationship?
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In the workplace, democratic leaders seem to care more about relationships than results. On the other hand, autocratic leaders care more about results than relationships. They’d break an egg anytime to make us all an omelette. Just like when the military moves in during a riot, we owe the calm after the storm to them. We owe the necessary drastic changes in times of chaos to them. How valuable is that concept in the workplace?
A few months ago, the world was shocked by the news of the demise of the former Ghanaian president, Jerry Rawlings. Born to a Scottish father and Ghanaian mother, Jerry Rawlings is considered the longest-serving leader in Ghana. He masterminded two military coups in Ghana with the first happening in 1979. Going forward, he oversaw the transition from the military junta to multiparty elections in what is now one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
Jerry Rawlings is one of the most charismatic political leaders in Africa, seizing power railing against corruption and was responsible for executing several former heads of state for their alleged graft and mismanagement. The most disruptive action taken by Jerry Rawlings was the execution of the former head of states for graft and finance mismanagement. He also masterminded the execution by firing squad of Supreme Court judges. These actions were hit with diverse opinions, largely negative, criticizing the abuse of human rights. But that paved the way for Ghana’s progress.
The question and answer we’d always assume is if the drastic measures of violently eliminating the root cause of the Ghanaian problems weren’t done, could they have gotten the desired result effectively?
There’s always room for popular view and deliberations, but sometimes it can be distractive. Personally, I am more Malcolm than Martin; I don’t believe in positively speaking water into fire, hoping it quenches. I believe in disruption and the brutality of change. You want to change something you don’t like, threaten its existence!
To make an omelette you must break an egg, else do you know any other way?
Too much productive time is spent on carrying the crowd along and managing the crowd mentality. Stand out! Not everything must be negotiated and put to a vote. Not everything that is counted, counts. The crowd can be misleading and the majority can be wrong. The nations that invented democracy and sold it to Africa didn’t give us the complete recipe. They also didn’t tell us that it has a better place when the society is more civil. So it’s failed here. To patch its side effects, when black is uncomfortable they set up committees and make placards. When white is uncomfortable they make laws, strategies and policies.
In the boardroom, we still see fierce characters with a genius drive. From President Donald John Trump to Ellon Musk, from Adenuga of Glo to Aig Imoukhede of AccessBank, some businesses do have them. For example, Ellon Musk, a dogmatic and controversial leader. He is one of the most influential CEOs and entrepreneurs in the world today. Having exercised an autocratic leadership style at each of his various enterprises, including car manufacturer Tesla and space exploration agency SpaceX, he has regularly overseen prosperity and success like no one else in his industry.
Aside from his strong personality and innovative genius, Musk is ambitiously insistent, setting exceptionally high standards for his hires. This includes intense scrutiny of the products that they create, even if it means changing his mind and discarding an idea after months of effort and in-depth planning without caring what anyone thinks. Now, that’s autocratic!
There is a place for being stubborn and assertive. Sometimes we need to be direct and drastic as leaders, especially when things or people’s behaviours have gotten really bad. While we agree that democracy is a people-oriented leadership style, I think democracy is a very slow and civil form of government that backfires in uncivil societies and the corporate world. To say in metaphors, you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelette. This world is yet to find any other way, or do you know one?
Democracy and democratic leadership in the workplace is built on freedom and the majority. But the majority can be wrong too. Outcomes of freedom can be disastrous when handed over to people who don’t understand that it comes with a responsibility; when to stop. We see how the majority gets it wrong through the Theory of the Abilene Paradox. We all preach freedom. Give it all to all and see it go out of control and be abused. We know freedom abusers by how they infringe on that of others. For example, in a political context, we attribute the stability of countries like China and Dubai by how they undemocratically control media and popular views.
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The world of today is very democratic. Generally, while the very democratic western world has been busy trying to fight the chances of nuclear weapons thinking the trigger is a bomb, they forget to see that the next world trigger for a world war will be social media, WhatsApp broadcasts and unguided fake news. That’s the side effect of freedom of speech without the responsibility of caution. There are people who do not understand freedom. That’s why jails are created.
According to Ken Blanchard, there are four methods that can be employed in engaging stakeholders as a leader. They are as follows:
- Directing/autocratic leadership is aimed at the least mature or low mentality employee or members whereby the leader uses only directive words and no supportive behaviours to motivate the subjects. This is very valid in primitive demography.
- Coaching whereby leader-supervisors use both high directive and high supportive words and behaviours in their interaction with employees. Here you seek their opinions more often.
- Supporting whereby leader-supervisors refrain from directive behaviours and concentrate on supportive behaviour only. These employees work well on their own, but lack self-confidence or may be overwhelmed with a new task.
- Delegating whereby leader-supervisors no longer need to offer directives or supportive words and behaviours. These employees have matured to the place where they are competent and confident in the task and do not need anyone to look over their shoulders.
In the words of Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” This article is really about the ignored side of autocracy and its rare view. The truth is that the authoritarian style is useful based on the situation, the type of task the group is working on, and the characteristics of the team members.
For a sophisticated, mature and civil system, democratic leadership works best. But when dealing with disruptive, chaotic, uncivil and misguided individuals in a system, autocracy may help cloth the bleeding and then set the stage for the fruitfulness that the negotiation of democracy brings. It delivers results faster and creates highly structured environments for the directing function of management.
To move forward, be ready for the brutality of change. This reality is the same, whether as a nation or as a firm. Governmental revolution and business disruptions are so much alike. They are both a spectator’s sport. In this game, the majority (whether the people in a country or the market in a business) is known to sit and watch the factions fight without partaking much. In the end, they will choose sides with the winning team. Understanding this trend is key. You don’t need the consensus of everyone to carry out a revolution. You can’t please everyone when driving change. If you want to make everyone happy then sell ice cream and not revolutionary ideas.
The expert leader can quickly make decisions that are in the best interest of the group, instead of wasting valuable time democratically consulting with less knowledgeable team members, Autocratic leadership is often most effective when it is used for specific situations. Balancing this style with other approaches including democratic or transformational styles can often lead to better group performance.
The stubbornness of an autocratic leader can be the saving grit. I feel that sometimes, we need to threaten the existence of what isn’t working (whether a country or a team) for it to reset itself. There comes a time where every business owner must make rational decisions that are fierce and direct for the sake of the long term. There are times when you have to stand up and stay strong, act, move on, and don’t turn back at the slightest care. Know when to.
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