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Re: Why Are Businesses Dictatorships?

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Wotcha Rebellious Wire Wranglers

I visit a lot of companies and they all proclaim a pretty standard set of values.

Employees are important, empowerment, valued are all terms chucked around like insults at a political rally. Weirdly I see very little evidence that the majority of managers actually believe it.

Obligatory Dilbert link here.

 

Taking a trip down memory lane my second permanent job was for an aerospace company and I was the only test engineer they employed. I was responsible for designing the test equipment up to a value of about £250k a machine, I had no help or external input, it was just me. In this company I couldn't buy a fuse for the machine, I would have to get a manager to sign the authorisation. I felt "valued".

 

This is always felt strange (and extremely annoying) to me, none of my managers understood a single thing about what I did or how I did it. They were not in a position to judge if I was telling the truth or not, they had no choice but to trust my judgement. And yet I couldn't buy a fuse.

The root of this seems to come from an inherent distrust of employees, I could be trusted to design, build and program complex and unique test systems but if I had the power to buy stuff it would be a slippery slope, the step from fuse to Ferrari is smaller than you would think.

 

A quick review of LinkedIn will throw up many inspirational quotes on leadership, a true leader must handsome and true, blah blah blah. Once again this fits nicely into our patriarchal business cliche where a business is best served by a strong manager (just the right amount of macho required). This leader knows best and as followers you will run into brick walls for them.

 

I believe this might be OK if you are doing something simple and you have an underpaid, under-motivated workforce. Is this OK for us, is the job so simple that no mistakes will ever be made? Can our strong decisive leadership survive the chip in the veneer that making mistakes brings?

 

If I had a group of highly qualified and highly experienced engineers and yet they were willing to follow me without question I'd have to question their decision making.

 

So why are all companies dictatorships? This is a system of governance that has been proven to fail over and over. Even the most authoritarian dictatorships have some element of political democracy, some nod towards empowering their people (I personally believe choosing ones leader is a fundamental human right, so don't think I'm being sympathetic to dictatorships here).

 

I've worked at companies where really good engineers are so completely dis-empowered due to lack of involvement in the decision making progress it actually pains me. Every decision path the company takes the following form.

Signs.png

Is there an alternative?

One book I've recommended to various people is "Maverick" by Ricardo Semler. You can buy this from your local book-shop. It might be more expensive and less convenient than Amazon but they sometimes pay taxes and won't take over the world. (UK readers should try hive.co.uk). 

As an old punk I've always been attracted to anarchism and this is not the black-flag, window kicking, rioting flavour. It's the collectivism of Spain in the 30's and it was actually pretty successful. I'm personally not convinced it will work for a country, but within departments of a company I think things get more interesting.

 

Collective decision making will take away the pressure of always having to be right, buy-in would be a given, changing direction would be as easy as getting together and having another vote. And as software engineers we have the tools for this collaborative working at our finger-tips.

 

Google docs, Skype, Version Control, VERSION CONTROL, Issue tracking, JIRA.... collaborative tools abound.

 

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Have a great week my lovelies

Steve

 

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Proven Zealot

Businesses tend towards Dictatorships because people are tired and don't have the mental energy to remain skeptical of people telling them what to do all of the time.  Accepting a Demagogue is easier mentally because it allows outsourcing hard decisions which take energy, time and discipline to do yourself.  By continually increasing every-day pressures on the general public, such polical leaders (or CEOs, they operate by more or less the same rules) open the doors for more and more blind faith in themselves.  Keep the rabble worrying about putting food on the table and they'll leave all the hard decisions to others.

 

This is why leaders in politics and corporations have a massively larger occurrence of psychopaths and sociopaths than in the general public.  It's where they thrive.

 

The only long-term method of battling this is raising the standard of living (minimum wage), increasing state support and boosting education.  Guess what demagogues try to do? Exactly the opposite.  Go figure. Smiley Happy

Knight of NI

This is also why there is a complete lack of loyalty to a company.  "Hey, this good engineer is demanding a promotion.  He is doing the work of a top level engineer...we will give him an extra 0.5% raise instead.  It will save us a lot of money".  Said engineer left and got a 15 - 20% raise.  Then said company is scrambling to find a replacement and end up spending a lot more money training up another person or lost revenue due to not being able to find a replacement.  I have seen this story play out many times over.

 

And those companies who are the real iron-fisted are having a really hard time keeping good people because of the atmosphere becomes so toxic.


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Also consider the 20% recruitment fee and retraining cost losing staff is quite expensive.

I not entirely sure money is the main motivator though, I could be quite well paid, but if I was completely ignored by management I'd be gone. 

In the democratic collective a department would have a budget and they can sort it out amongst themselves. So the person who walks around a company with a piece of paper (looking stressed and important), but who actually contributes very little would be out of the door. <-- I worked with someone who did precisely this for years!

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Most of what you say is sadly true Intaris IMO, I would personally say it is lack of motivation/involvement due to poor management that makes it true tho'. So the symptom is also the cause. 

At SSDC HQ we find making difficult decisions much easier if everyone has had a part in it.

Again, looking at the posts on LinkedIn regarding leadership I get the feeling that there is a lot of arrogance involved. Where I'm in complete agreement with you is that "leadership" as a job does seem to attract more sociopaths. I've worked for a few! .... but not for long.

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Part of the problem is as companies grow larger, they need more people and they neglect the hiring process.  Instead of trying to hire the right people, they just hire bodies with the appropriate certificates/diplomas etc.  It's easier (at least in the short term).   And then they spend all their time trying to manage the people they've hired because they can't trust them.   This is how you end up with companies with thousands of pages of procedures.

 

There is also problem with our understanding of leadership.  We tend to measure leaders by how much they (the leader) accomplish.  The true test of a leader is not how much the leader accomplishes, but how much those they are leading accomplish.  A leader is only as successful as the people they are leading.

Sam Taggart
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So poor hiring and paperwork, doesn't paint a pretty picture for the dictator-in-chiefs decision making does it?

 

A bit like Intaris, what you state is true. I would also add the conspiracy theory that managers know that deliberate under-resourcing is a good way to get your staff to work harder. People tend to fall back into authoritarianism when they are under pressure.

 

You should have seen me in the time constrained team exercise, it was embarrassing.

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Some of the attendants of the ECLA summit might remember my presentation about start ups and leadership <plug>which I am going to conduct again at the German VIP days this Thursday</plug>

 

A lot of issues throughout companies (and consequently health issues for employees) are originating from bad leadership. And all my fellow managers/leaders hate me for stating this over and over again.

There is a clear difference between being a manager and a leader.

 

I really do like, the stuff Simon Sinek has published, his clips on Youtube are worth watching. I would even say, that Leaders Eat Last is a must read for everybody; including employees!

 

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Is that VIP Days on the 18th and 19th of October 2017 Oli? I see you're presenting twice that day at 13:30 and 15:30.

I liked the Simon Sinek video you posted on LinkedIn very much, my only push back on all of this leadership talk is that even his analogies are around primitive societies where the task in hand is not intellectually challenging.

I believe that leadership is very different for people working on the shop-floor of a factory and a group doing creatively intellectual work. So in the factory you're trying to motivate people to finish work that can be repetitive, in the world of ideas I would like to see everyone taking the leadership responsibility. It's not a matter of hippy management, it's just good use of resources. I've reluctantly managed both groups by the way.

Here's the rub, if you rely on a really strong leader for success I would suggest they are a rare resource (hence all the videos and posts about leadership on LinkedIn). Whereas a group of motivated peers democratically making decisions should have similar outcomes, most of the time. Because the decisions are made as a group changing them is less of a matter of shattered ego than when changing poor leader-based decisions.

The consequences of poor leadership are generally catastrophic because of this heavy price put on the ego of an idea.

 

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Smiley Mad, oh Steve such an emotive subject.  You've set me up for a day of grumpiness (contemplating if a short commute is a real reason to stay at a company), but it is comforting to be in the presence of some like minded people on this thread. 

 

All of the issues that impact me have been touched on in one form or another already so I have nothing to add apart from my agreement with all and kudos to the issue that annoys me the most (from swatts):

 

"This is always felt strange (and extremely annoying) to me, none of my managers understood a single thing about what I did or how I did it...."   What are they basing their decisions on?

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My colleague Adrian had the short commute argument with me for many years before I pried him away, I don't think he regrets it (much).

 

Ruts can be very comfortable..................

 

One word of warning tho' I'm detecting some chill winds our side of the pond, do our homework! 

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@swatts wrote:
Here's the rub, if you rely on a really strong leader for success I would suggest they are a rare resource (hence all the videos and posts about leadership on LinkedIn). Whereas a group of motivated peers democratically making decisions should have similar outcomes, most of the time. Because the decisions are made as a group changing them is less of a matter of shattered ego than when changing poor leader-based decisions.

 

 


I do love the concept of democracy (although I don't really like the outcome of the recent elections). Even with peers, there is in one way or another, a leader. Yet the leader changes for the given situation. Think of great bands, they thrive without a formal leader. Those with a great virtuous artist as front man/ woman will collapse, as soon as he/she has gone. Others will step out of the shadow of the master mind sooner or later. (Cobain / Grohl... hope I am not starting a **bleep** storm now ;-)

And this is also a factor, great leaders are aware of: they are a rare specimen and it is their noblest task to make themselves obsolete by growing and mentoring other people to become leaders.

Coming back to the German) elections: the rise of the extreme right wing to me is an obvious consequence of failed leadership. Unfortunately hoping for salvation at the pied pipers Smiley Sad

 

 

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I'll avoid politics for now, all I will say is that democracy self corrects and while not that good, is way better than the alternatives.

All your other points are perfectly put from my perspective, leadership is situational.

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By the way, I have just added a link to this article to my presentation for thursday afternoon

 

Sometime procrastination pays off Smiley Wink

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Woohoo free advertising!

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Free? I was hoping for a drink next time on 6th Street Smiley Wink

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Proven Zealot

Regarding Democracy being self-correcting......

 

Once you are dealing with a heterogenous group of people attempting to make a homogeneous decision, tensions will exist.  City vs Countryside.  England vs Scotland. Britain vs Europe. Europe vs USA.  At each "us & them" boundary, tensions can arise and the more stress people suffer, the more "intimate" they want their boundaries.

 

A single vote in a group of 20 feels a lot different than one in 80 million.  Dilute the individual choice enough and even those who believe in homeopathy will practice apathy instead.

 

People under pressure constrict their boundaries.  We see this on a  large scale in Europe at the moment.  When things go belly-up, we try to secure "us" before "them".  Even democracy can't save us from that.  Consquence? UKIP and AfD...

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On the company scale you would have small group with a common purpose and tasks to achieve. This would be a far easier proposition than a country or group of countries. I think democracy struggles when people feel dis-enfranchised, the cure is not to grab power in an authoritarian manner but to stop people feeling dis-enfranchised.

The primary reason for this article was that I've been working with a group of engineers that have been completely dis-enfranchised by a set of managers that hardly interact with them and certainly don't listen to them, in fact consistently do the opposite of the advice given. It's hopeless and I get grumpy about it because it could be good.

Proven Zealot

I hear you.  Unfiortunately managers exist exactly at the "us" vs "them" boundaries and don't realise their job is to make it so that the boundary is as smooth as possible instead of reinforcing it into an autocratic and administrative behemoth which grants them stupid amounts of power.

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Good point, Intaris!

 

"us vs them" we have to be careful not to slip the same scheme: "employees vs leaders"

Though it is the coach who has to leave if the football team is under-performing (unfotunately business kinda works the wrong way here), leadership works bothways: up and down the chain. It is also on the employees to do their part: love it, change it or leave it.

 

Only whining and complaining about the situation is useless.

 

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> Only whining and complaining about the situation is useless.

 

Amen, Oli!


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I think you can affect what you can affect, so if you can run your area like this that's a step in the right direction.

The other part of it was brought up further up the convo, sometimes having someone make all the decisions for you is easy...easy is comfortable...mmmmm ruts.

Proven Zealot

At the same time, a boss who tends to listen to their workers is often received as being weak and essentially unneccessary.

 

The best boss I ever had just left me alone to get on with my work...... he even let me write my own reference letter (we had a level of mutual trust, he wasn't just an absentee boss - well he was, but out of conviction not out of laziness).

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I definitely know some people that don't want to be bothered with responsibilities, hence making decisions is out of the question for them. Less decisions = less responsibilities = less target surface if anything goes wrong.

 

Of course, that behaviour might very well be the result of an environment of dictator-like leadership.

 

Intaris, I know lots of people who wrote their own reference letter. Interestingly, I always felt like their managers were just plain lazy, to me it felt like an omission, or rather a shortfall.


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Proven Zealot

In most cases I would also have thought letting my write my own reference would be laziness, but here I don't.  Could be wrong of course.  Perception is such a personal thing.

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Just to state my expectation: my leader spends a reasonable amount of thinking, what he regards to be important to be added to the recommendation and discusses it with/ explains it to me. Furthermore, he asks me if there is anything, he has forgotten but I want to be added.

 

This is what makes me feel valued.

 

 

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The word dictatorship makes it difficult to take a dissenting point of view without being put into a pot of pro-dictators!

 

The alternative to 'dictatorship' is a more consensus based approach which also has its flaws where you wait for everyone to agree or one person can drag everyone and you then get this super safe and risk averse group that never does anything interesting (ever volunteer for a non-profit?).

 

The unicorn type of leader who is both bold and ambitious but also kind and sensitive is hard to find.  Much like the unicorn of an engineer who is both technical and has communication skills.

 


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Thank Terry

It was more an observation than a debate point and that's my defence. The business world if pretty much 100% autocracy and this goes somewhere between totally autocratic and consensus. We can also see here that the conversation quickly turns to leadership, i.e. who should be making our decisions for us.

I'll take it to the nirvana point here (for me). If I was in a factory, running a department, my ideal form of management would have been a whiteboard with a list of tasks and times and a safe full of cash. Both of these items would have to be agreed in the normal budget bore-fest, but that's business. Anything else is extraneous to me. I calculated there was 40%+ other stuff in my hours all of it a complete waste of time.

That is pretty much what I get running my own business, so it's not impossible.

If leadership is something that is necessary I love the idea of transitional leadership, someone taking on the project leadership for something they are enthusiastic about (nearly said passionate there, but that's for the bedroom!).

But I'll repeat it because I like it, most of what we're involved in can be broken down to Tasks,Time and Cash.

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  "I think democracy struggles when people feel dis-enfranchised, the cure is not to grab power in an authoritarian manner but to stop people feeling dis-enfranchised."

 

The problem is that requires listening and empathy which are 2 skills that are often lacking.

Sam Taggart
CLA, CPI, CTD, LabVIEW Champion
DQMH Trusted Advisor
automatedenver.com
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