A recent article in Entrepreneur by George Cloutier entitled Your Company Is Not A Democracy is raising a bit of a ruckus and eliciting some push back. The article advocates a “tough love school of management” and takes the position that the most effective leaders are benevolent dictators and that the only opinion that counts is that of ownership: “You cannot be effective as the owner of a business unless you are feared and respected by your employees. Likability is nice but not necessary. You’ve got to demand what you want.” The author suggests eight attitudes and practices that small-business owners need to adopt. Here’s a sampling: “Tell your employees: “Don’t think–obey.”

At Lead Change Group’s blog, Mike Henry calls the article as a biased justification for poor leadership. While he acknowledges a few truisms in the article (eg, that employees must be held accountable), he takes issue with the overall philosophy that fear is the best motivator and that managers must choose between the options of failing or dictating. He draws a distinction between effective leadership and good leadership, offering five reasons why he (and many others) would avoid the “my way or the highway” type of managers.

Unfortunately, there is no commenting feature on Cloutier’s original article so we cannot see any pro or con remarks that it may have elicited among readers, but the comments on Mike Henry’s post are worth reading. Here are a few excerpts:

  • uxdesign.com: “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.”
  • Bruno Coelho: “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.”
  • Dave Martin: “Moreover, they [“folks like Mr. Cloutier”] 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.”

We agree with Mike Henry’s observations and those of many of the comments on his post. We point to a prior post on leadership, which offers lessons from some of the world’s most respected leaders.

On that prior post, author and management consultant Bennet Simonton took the time to share his thoughts on leadership at some length in the comments. Because this excellent comment is buried in our archives, we take the liberty of reposting it here, given its pertinence to the topic at hand:

“One liners never helped me much in my 30+ years of managing people, as few as 22 and as many as 1300.

In my first 12 years, I used the traditional top-down command and control approach to managing people. I then changed to listening to them. After years of listening, I learned what they were following and thus what leadership is.

Leadership consists of sending value standard messages to people which most of them then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been “led” in the direction of those standards. Leadership is merely one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.
Leadership in the workplace consists of the value standards reflected in everything that an employee experiences because these standards are what employees follow by using them to perform their work. Most of what the employee experiences is the support or lack thereof provided by management – such as training, tools, parts, discipline, direction, material, procedures, rules, technical advice, documentation, information, planning, etc.

Leadership is not a process any manager can change. It happens inexorably every minute of every day because of the way people are. The only choice available to a manager is the standard (good, bad, mediocre or in between) which he/she transmits to to employees.
For instance, the top-down command and control technique is a widely used method by which to manage people. Top-down concentrates on producing goals, targets, visions, orders and other directives in order to control the workforce and thereby achieve organizational success. Concentrating on giving direction prevents these managers from doing much of anything else. Thus top-down treats employees like robots in the “shut up and listen, I know better than you” mode, and rarely if ever listens to them. By so doing this approach ignores every employee’s basic need to be heard and to be respected. This approach also makes top management ignorant of what is really going on in the workplace thus making their directives misguided at best and irrelevant at worst.

In this way and others, top-down demeans and disrespects employees sending them very negative value standard messages. The standards reflected in this treatment “lead” employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with the same level of disrespect they received. No one can become committed to company goals while being treated so poorly.

This is the road to very poor corporate performance as compared to the results that would be achieved using a better approach. Top-down managers are their own worst enemies because they “lead” employees to the very worst performance.

To produce very high performance, swing to the other end of the spectrum thus leading toward the highest possible performance. To do this, first get rid of all traces of a top-down approach. Everyone wants to do a good job, but don’t want to be ordered around like a robot.
Next, start treating employees with great respect and not like robots by listening to whatever they want to say when they want to say it and responding in a very respectful manner. Responding respectfully means resolving their complaints and suggestions and answering their questions to their satisfaction as well as yours, but most importantly theirs. It also means providing them more than enough opportunity to voice their complaints, suggestions and questions. Spend your time making your support reflect the very highest standards of all values by resolving their complaints and suggestions thus “leading” toward the very highest standards.

And realize that the highest quality and most respectful “direction” is the very least since no one likes to take orders or really needs them except in emergency situations. Anyone routinely needing extensive orders should not be on your team.

This treatment leads employees to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect. Listening and responding respectfully also inspires them to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation and productivity on their work giving them great pride in it and causes them to love to come to work.”


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