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Hayley is a client of mine who leads a team of 15 people within a much larger organisation. Hayley loves her work and is ambitious for what she can achieve. Her manager agrees – Hayley is certainly smart and experienced enough to go far, and has the potential to be a real asset for the company. Yet Hayley is let down by an all too common, yet off-putting way of leading others  – she gets very pushy and domineering when under the pump – which is all the time.

Hayley knows it, her manager knows it – and the people around her bear the brunt of it. Yet because of the pressure she feels every day to produce results, Hayley can’t quite change her leadership style. For Hayley, being autocratic and steamrolling people doesn’t feel nice – but it seems to work. What else is she to do?

Hayley’s style of leading is what I call Dictator, and it’s one of the most common default styles people go to when under pressure. As Hayley believed, there’s no denying that a Dictator mindset can get the job done. What she didn’t understand was that it’s the short-term job. It handles the emergency. It is not the mindset you want as a leader. Dictator mindset doesn’t develop others, it alienates, good people drift away, and its not a viable, sustainable approach.

Hayley’s manager asked me to work with her because she could see:

  • Hayley risked losing valuable team members in a competitive job market
  • Dictator mindset was holding back Hayley’s career. Hayley being too short sighted closed her off to the consequences of leading this way
  • This was damaging Hayley’s standing. The manager really believed that Hayley had a good future ahead of her if she could just develop a different mindset around who she was as a leader.
  • It ultimately isn’t the best way to lead.

How Dictator leadership showed up for Hayley included:

  • Being dismissive of her team’s input
  • Overriding decisions, sometimes at the last minute
  • Taking over from someone who she’d given the task to
  • Forming a small inner circle, and creating a them/us situation
  • Taking credit when a team member had done something great (or at least sharing credit/the spotlight)
  • Micromanaging
  • Not giving her team the chance to grow and fail. Their failure means she has failed too, so she didn’t want that to reflect on her

Dictator mindset is common. If this is a mindset you default to under pressure, here are some things to think about:

– The Dictator leads from fear, and failure is one of their greatest fears. Reflect on what you are afraid of. Often it’s not about missing the goals – it’s much more personal than that. What is your relationship to perfectionism and control? What longer term possibilities for growth are you sabotaging because you have to be on top all the time?

– If you believe your team isn’t talented enough, reflect on your own journey and how you’ve grown over time. You didn’t start as the competent person you are now. Look to how your team can be empowered and encouraged with that insight. Discover what they are capable of when a Dictator does not lead them.

– Notice a belief you have that leading differently is as nice-to-have, not a must-have. Question that – what do you get out of Dictator this way? How is it serving you? And – what is it costing you (the team or the business?)

– What vision can you create for your team or business that is so much bigger than one person (you) fulfilling it?

With support, Hayley is turning this around. Rather than leading from domination and coersion, she is freeing up the energy, talent and capacity her team already has – but couldn’t express. Hayley is more often able to see beyond the short term horizon. She has become more generous as a leader, and more human. She’s getting the job done, in a different way, and her team are happier and more productive.

Hayley shows us that Dictator is a mindset. It’s a default, unconscious leadership style that is unsuited to the challenges we face. Whether you’re leading a team of 100 or 1, there is a better leadership mindset to develop. What’s great about this is that with awareness and support, one can move from ‘command and control’ ways of getting things done, and into a more effective and inclusive way of achieving our goals.


Till next week,
Much love