Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Negative Autocrats

Autocratic leadership is not inherently negative. Some autocrats, Winston Churchill comes to mind, are needed to turn around operations at times when collegial leadership would be ineffective and time-consuming.

There are, however, negative autocrats who leave their organizations far weaker than was the case when they arrived. Some of their characteristics are:

  • Intolerance for dissent. The positive autocrat Churchill would argue with his generals and with Parliament but respected institutions and would back off in deference to demonstrated expertise. Negative autocrats view dissent with suspicion. Voicing contrary views is a sure way of putting your career on the fast track to nowhere.

  • Preference for security over effectiveness and efficiency. The negative autocrat's priorities begin and end with one word: ME. Everything else is optionable. They will permit staff in-fighting and rule-breaking just so long as those activities do not threaten their own security. When they do, the negative autocrat ruthlessly responds. This preference sometimes baffles outsiders who apply normal standards of measuring performance.

  • Fostering dependency. The negative autocrat does not favor independent thinkers and strong personalities. Given time, those individuals are forced out or marginalized and the inner circle is filled with sycophants whose careers lean heavily upon continuing to curry the favor of the leader.

  • Using fear. The negative autocrat invariably creates a climate of fear because fear is tied to a lack of control and such leaders only permit one person to have real control. There is an enormous amount of upward delegation as people fear taking responsibility for their decisions.

  • Favoring activity versus authority. The further down the hierarchy one travels, the more one will find frenzied activities used as a substitute for authority. There's a committee for this and one for that and each disguises the fact that there is little real power at those levels.

  • Divide and conquer. Negative autocrats break up any potential staff alliances that may threaten their power; indeed, they favor staff conflict. They rarely have a clearly accepted successor.

  • Charisma. Not all negative autocrats have charisma but when present, it usually produces harmful effects. The associates begin to suspend judgment and defer to the leader even in circumstances where the leader may be delusional.

  • Hidden intelligence channels. The close associates of such leaders spend an inordinate amount of time determining the leader's whims and biases so proposals can be fashioned accordingly.

A grand joke of negative autocrats is that they portray themselves as models of efficiency when the systems they create are anything but efficient.

Positive autocrats need short "shelf lives." Negative autocrats deserve zero.

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