We constantly hear about the advantages of benevolent dictators in the business realm. We hear about how the Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ of the world create great companies by making all the decisions and creating great products. That’s a load of garbage. People like Bill and Steve weren’t benevolent dictators. At least no more so than the President of the United States. They were strong leaders and quite often, if you listen to the stories, jerks. Strong leaders do help to make great products and companies, but they don’t deliver those results because they’re benevolent dictators.
The value of strong leaders isn’t in making all the decisions. Their value is in providing a vision, which can point out a direction for their companies to strike out in. Having people working in random directions is counterproductive. It’s like putting horses on all sides of a wagon and having them pull in every direction. You won’t go anywhere and in the end, you might break the wagon apart. The best you can hope for is that one horse is strong enough to drag the rest in one direction very slowly.
That’s why leaders have to step in sometimes and make a decision. It’s not because they make the best decisions. They might not even make a good decision. The value in them making a decision is that sometimes consensus can’t be reached and almost any decision is better than no decision at all. At least if you move quickly, you can make a mistake sooner and correct yourself to go in the right direction. If you stay at the crossroads forever, you’ll never get to where you want to go.
Also remember that having a benevolent dictator instead of a strong leader can cause issues. Dictators tell you what to do and rarely listen. They will rarely admit that they are wrong, so they stick to the wrong path despite all evidence pointing to the folly of their decision. So, if you believe in a benevolent dictator and believe that they are the key to a strong business, know that for that to be true, they have to be willing to listen to others and change direction quickly when they are shown to be wrong. That’s hardly the type of trait that you would associate with someone that you would consider a benevolent dictator. A strong leader, on the other hand, would be much more likely to adopt a new direction when circumstances dictated that it was needed.