The Benevolent Dictator – A Lesson in Management – Part One

Looking for a lesson in management? Here’s one takeaway to consider—a business is not a democracy.

It is a dictatorship, though this is seldom appreciated.

Dictatorships have a very bad reputation in our world’s history. As Lord Acton is so often quoted, “Power tends to corrupt. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But look at this idea again. Power corrupts?

How exactly does that work? Power is somehow an inherently evil force, like a demon? So, no one should have power? Is it like a virus?

If you think critically about this idea that it’s the power corrupting people, you quickly see that it’s ridiculous. Power is a part of life.

The idea that power corrupts is the like the idea that money is the root of all evil. Like sex and money, power is projected upon as if it is the source of the problem, rather than the issue being with ourselves and our relationship to it. Power, the dynamic wherein one person has more influence, responsibility, and control over something, is a fact of life. Try to imagine a world in which everyone has equal power in all domains. It’s absurd notion with no referent in reality whatsoever.

Here’s a second lesson in management. Power is not the problem. Power simply illuminates the shadow issues in the leader that are already there. And so, another common quote:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

(That one’s Voltaire… not Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, in case you were wondering.)

This is more apt and holds the appropriate accountability. It’s not widely known that the founders of Western Philosophy—Socrates, Aristotle and Plato—were against democracy. They saw how the practice of democracy reduced a community to the lowest common denomination of the masses. They subscribed instead to the idea of the “Philosopher King” wherein the few wisest are permitted rule.

The problem is, of course, gaining agreement on who is the wisest.

The bad news that the benevolent dictatorship is unlikely to be adopted in the United States anytime soon. We are still too resistant to the monarchy that early Americans rebelled in the revolutionary war. This is the root of our independent, individual-focused culture that in this way leads the world, but we are at the same time stuck in a rebellion-based, teenage form of independence.

Real independence includes the ability to surrender (in one’s own self-interest) to an authority who is smarter and more conscious than you are. Real independence means that you can lean into another whom you recognize aims to serve your highest good.

This is the basis of a benevolent dictatorship.

Next week we will take this lesson in management a step further by discussing what traits a person must hold to reach this goal and how choices play a role in what happens in our lives. Until then…

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