You MUST be a benevolent dictator

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

The word “dictator” typically has a negative connotation. History has not provided kind examples.


Leading a team is NOT a democracy. Making tough decisions, having difficult conversations, and firing people are everyday tasks for leaders, where employees don’t get to vote.


At the same time, leading a team effectively does not include bullying, coercion or manipulation.

The fact is, you CAN (and must) be a benevolent dictator. It’s about harnessing your power effectively.

More often than not, it is entirely inappropriate for team members to have voting rights on the direction of a project or a pivotal deadline.

You value your team members’ thoughts and input. However, this is not about consensus, but willing consent. (Folks on your team are allowed to disagree, and then they must commit. Which is a whole other topic I’ll dive into in a future article.)

At the end of the day, you, the leader, need to make the call. Because the deliverable still needs to get done.

Supporting your team in how it gets done is what will make you wildly successful.

Take Bob, a CEO. When he first came to us, you could say that he was… a straight-up dictator. He was known for having “sharp elbows” and motivating people with harsh words and ultimatums.

Sure, in the short term, things got done and deadlines were met. But his behavior alienated people. Fewer and fewer people wanted to continue working with him, whether they were a team member or colleague whose support he needed to advance an important initiative.

A leader that no one wants to work with is no leader at all.

Through his work with us, Bob had learned how to soften those elbows. He had come a long way—really, turning a full 180.

Bob was now the type of leader that people wanted to follow. They sought out his advice and spoke glowingly of him even when he wasn’t in the room.

These are all earmarks of a guy who had done the work: strengthened his interpersonal relationships, learned how to listen and communicate respectfully, and let his team know he valued their input and contributions. He was practically the poster child for how raising your EQ is key to your success as a leader.

And THEN. He had reached an impasse with a new project, and the delays were threatening his team’s ability to deliver at all. He needed to get people to own up and take corrective action, FAST.

In the past, he would have just bull-in-china-shopped his way through it. Now he knew better, and wanted to handle the situation WITHOUT losing all the ground he’d gained through our previous work. He recognized that it was time to uplevel his skills, so he re-engaged with his coach.

“How do I fix this?” he asked. Meaning: if I can’t throw my weight around like I used to, how in the heck can I get this project back on track?

Enter the benevolent dictator.

As leaders, we CAN “be nice” AND still get our way. As it did for Bob, this may require a change in language.

Although you may have an urge to storm the boardroom, upending tables and chairs and yelling, “This deliverable is LATE! Fix it NOW!!”—as Bob’s story demonstrates, this is a short-term, high-cost solution.

The more effective approach is to ask neutral questions that offer support, such as:
“What’s getting in the way of completing this on time?” Or:

“What do you need from me to support you in getting it done?”

Shifting the tone from accusatory to curious and changing your language does two things:

One, it helps your people feel safe, so they are more likely to express what’s really going on. This allows you to get to the root cause of issues at stake—so you solve for the right problem, not just the outward symptom of them. (In Bob’s case, project delays).

Two, it allows your people to feel heard and respected, which encourages their ongoing loyalty and willingness. Remember that nugget I dropped about consensus vs. consent? We don’t need them to agree with us here, we just need them to commit to the overall objective.

Are you like Bob? Showing up as a benevolent dictator for most of us is a learned skill—and with new challenges come new required levels of nuance and expertise.

This is where a long-term relationship with a coach can help. If you’re ready to get your people enthusiastically on board and STILL get what you need done, let’s talk. Schedule a complimentary discovery call today.

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Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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