We live in a dangerous world, and a major reason is because of a lack of quality leadership. Today I would like to discuss how toxic “autocratic leadership” is harmful not only for government officials, but also for our businesses. Autocratic leadership exists for two major reasons.

First, it is a by-product of the detestable human desire by many to dominate, control and manipulate others.

Secondly, it is deeply embedded in most human cultures. For example, the same culture that brought the world Ivan the Terrible, and Stalin is the same culture that allowed a Vladimir Putin to emerge. This is not a coincidence. Let’s talk more about toxic autocratic leadership.

Abusive autocratic leadership is a serious problem and is not limited to politicians in government; it is also prevalent in most modern businesses and other organizations. Here’s just a small recent illustration.

In early December of 2021, the chief executive officer of Better.com, a US-based digital mortgage lending company, callously fired 900 workers on a Zoom call. This was about 9% of the company’s total workforce. Talk about a lack of leadership skill or decency! Due to the backlash, he took some time off (I’m sure at full pay), and then returned to work. But this wasn’t the first time this domineering tyrant had been involved in controversy, as evidenced earlier by an email he sent to staff that was obtained by Forbes Magazine. It read…

“You are TOO DAMN SLOW. You are a bunch of DUMB DOLPHINS… SO STOP IT. STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE EMBARRASSING ME,” he wrote. Wow! What an inspirational leader he is. What amazes me most is that the Board of Directors has allowed this shallow behavior to continue. As a follow-up to this, on March 9th, 2022, Better.com announced it is again laying off about one-third of its remaining workforce, amounting to roughly 3,000 jobs. When you are incapable of good leadership, the answer is always to dispose of people.

We need to realize that even though this company got media attention, these kinds of toxic autocratic dictates are made each and every day in far too many businesses. Why? It is because this kind of behavior is embedded in our Western culture. If we are honest with ourselves, it is even celebrated.

For example, within our own culture, television ratings show we approve of shows like “The Apprentice” where contestants are encouraged to judge one another, betray a co-worker, and are mocked for being “stupid.” Finally those labeled as “losers” are kicked off the show with the catchphrase, “You’re Fired!”

For decades, CEOs like Jack Welch were celebrated and honored as the model of excellent corporate leadership. This might be true if you are measuring business leadership entirely through the prism of share prices, or market capitalization. Welch, earned the nickname “Neutron Jack” during the 1980s for eliminating tens of thousands of employees even as he continued to accumulate unrelated businesses that dominated in their market share. His successor had to painfully deal with these mistakes.

However, beyond GE share prices, his autocratic leadership example was toxic. Here is an example of how he really valued employees. At a meeting he said that he believed there were “Four Types of Employees:”

1. A High performer that “buys into” the corporate culture — promote and empower them as much as possible
2. A Low performer that doesn’t “buy into” the corporate culture — fire them as quickly as possible
3. A Low performer that “buys into” the corporate culture — give them a second chance in a different position to see if they can be an ‘A’ player
4. High performer that doesn’t buy into the corporate culture — do a “public hanging” where you fire them and then discuss with other managers their short comings.

Reference: https://davidcummings.org/2008/11/08/jack-welch-on-the-four-types-of-employees/

Of course, he alone defined what a “low performer” and “high performer” were. It never dawned upon him that corporate cultures need to constantly improve, evolve, and innovate to remain productive and healthy environments. To Jack Welch, “buying into the corporate culture,” meant doing what he wanted employees to do, when he wanted them to do it, and how he wanted them to do it. There was little room for improved cultural change except a new strategy to lop off employees or GE subsidiaries to increase GE’s stock valuation.

To the autocratic mindset, people are disposable whether they are soldiers in the military or employees in a business. They most value their prestige, wealth and influence. To their distorted way of thinking, little else really matters.

If you would like to know more about autocratic leadership, I encourage you to watch our video, “What You Need to Know About Leadership.” I will place a link in the Discussion Area.
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This is Greg Thomas on behalf of Leadership Excellence Ltd. reminding you that it was General Dwight D Eisenhower who wrote, ” You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that’s assault, not leadership.

If you would like information on our personal leadership training programs or business leadership development programs, contact us today or schedule a free consultation with Greg!

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