Disastrous Leadership Style, The Polite Dictator

The Polite Dictator is a person who smiles, asks for input, ignores others, and makes all the decisions.

Ken was the new division president of a $5 Billion division in a Fortune 200 company. He was speaking in front of 500 people at a big regional meeting. I was in the room because I was coaching some of the other executives at the meeting.

Ken said to the audience, “For us to be as good as we can be I need your best thinking on our newest initiative. I want you to really think about what would be the best way to roll this out and then email me your best ideas. I will read every idea and consider it as we move toward making our final decision. Together we can make magic happen.” When he walked off the stage he received a standing ovation.

Later that day I saw Ken in the restroom, and I said, “Ken, you don’t know me, but I wanted you to know I thought it was really tremendous when you asked the audience for their best ideas to help you with your decision.”

He said, “Oh, I’ve already made my decision on what we’re going to do.”

“Well then why did you ask them to email you their best ideas?”

“It’s a trick I learned years ago. It’s a way of getting them all excited. They’ll forget I even asked for it by the end of the day.”

A few years later Ken was fired. He had the worst employee engagement scores of any division president and his customer retention was the lowest of any division in the company. The Polite Dictator says what is needed to please people for the moment, but doesn’t realize that people quickly stop trusting him or her.

Two Questions to Avoid The Polite Dictator Disastrous Leadership Approach

1. Who is going to make the final decision and what is the process you are going to use to determine the final decision?

2. Are you in some way trying to fool other people as to their actual role in the decision-making process just to make them feel temporarily good?

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