How to Avoid Being a ‘Dictator-Boss’

  • June 6, 2019

Dictator-boss syndrome often affects young managers who have just begun to spread their wings and are looking to prove their worth. Their toxic attitude can negatively affect their team’s morale, create conflict, and lead people to leave the company. A 2015 study carried out involving 27 million employees in 195 countries concluded that one in every two employees has quit a job to get away from a terrible supervisor. So, who are these “little Hitlers” and why do they behave the way they do? And how can you avoid becoming one yourself?

The dictator-boss archetype

Each dictator-boss has their own idiosyncrasies and methods that drive their team nuts, but certain traits are shared by all.

They are authoritarian and obsessed with control

A young manager needs reassurance, which can too often translate into micromanagement. They have to be cc’d on every email and invited to every meeting, and have all of their decisions validated. They become a hindrance and a thorn in the side of their team.

They do not accept errors or criticism

Each misstep and each error, no matter how small, is seen as a failure. Additionally, any feedback from their coworkers feels like a direct attack and a questioning of their skills.

They do not listen

For fear of being called into question, they have immovable opinions and leave no room for the views of their team members. This causes them to make unilateral decisions without exploring any other options that are proposed.

They control information

The old saying “information is power” seems to be their cornerstone. The dictator-boss wants to know everything and share nothing; they prefer setting up individual meetings rather than team gatherings as a way of remaining the revolving door of information.

They reject innovation and initiatives

Their knee-jerk response is “No” or “Let’s think about that another time.” Dictator-bosses find comfort in doing things how they have always done them and following procedures they have mastered to the letter.

Why do people become dictator-bosses and how can you avoid it?

Dictator-bosses are not fundamentally horrible people whose only goal in life is to make their coworkers miserable. The root problem is often a mix of inexperience, stress, ego, and other imperfections that make humans so complicated. Here are three common traits found in even the most well intentioned of dictator-bosses.

1. Managers can forget that becoming one means going back to being a beginner

Becoming a manager is not a simple evolution from the last position you held. Being the best in a subordinate position could give the illusion that you will be the best in the new one as well, but it doesn’t work like that.

What to do? Becoming a manager means you will need to acquire new skills. There are training courses available for developing soft skills and learning how to supervise a team. Other approaches are asking peers for advice or finding a mentor for guidance during the first stages.

2. Managers can feel under pressure to succeed (due to their own and others’ behavior)

Young managers feel a need to prove their worth and to provide results. This could be frustrating because they are not being judged solely on their performance but on the team’s, and that means letting go of control. That is one heck of a challenge and often when a dictator-boss becomes controlling, authoritarian, and unmanageable.

What to do? The key solution here is to learn how to manage the stress. This is very personal and depends on the company and its hierarchy. When superiors apply too much pressure, you should talk to them and ask for more freedom in order to relieve the burden being placed on you and on your team. When you are the source of pressure, having a mentor could be beneficial, as they can help you gain perspective and reassure you about your daily work.

3. Managers can believe that everyone functions in the same way they do

Some managers take years to realize that their coworkers are not “idiots,” but that they simply think and function differently. Each person has their own sources of inspiration and objectives, which generate different reactions and ways of working or interacting.

What to do? Rather than trying to make team members behave in the same way you do, which is time-consuming and complicated, the most natural solution is for you to look to understand how each person operates and then find the best compromise between how everyone functions. This could be through simple, one-to-one conversations, or through collective role-playing situations.

The behavior of a horrible manager must be taken seriously for as long as their capacity to harm is significant, because they can have a huge impact on the morale and output of a team. Nevertheless, remember that it is difficult for young managers to find the right balance between supervising their teams and micromanagement, between open-mindedness and being scatterbrained, and between kindliness and affirmation of their role.

For people who are not naturally gifted with the qualities needed to be a good manager, all is not lost. Time, experience, and support from positive people are the best treatments for curing dictator-boss syndrome.

Photo: WTTJ

Translated by Mary Wagonner-Moritz

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Astrid Despointe

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