The Maladies of Autocracy

March 31, 2023

In an autocratically managed organization, the autocrat is not challenged. He or she is feared. Thus, often decisions that are not finalized, that are just an idea, get implemented, nevertheless. They are considered to be an order because no one dares to ask questions: are they a decision or just an illumination? The decision is not challenged. Not reviewed if it makes sense. If it is even ethical. They are being implemented to be safe in case they are a finalized decision.Here are some examples from my professional work over the years. Some amusing. Some can have disastrous consequences.A general went to visit a military camp and found that there was a guard in front of a new building not letting anyone in. He investigated and found that there was nothing secret that needed to be guarded.An inquiry found that several months before, the floor in that building had been painted, and a guard was assigned to prohibit soldiers from entering and stepping on the new paint. Months passed. The floor got dry, but no one remembered to remove the guard. No one dared to challenge the decision. So it stuck.In a bureaucracy, a clerk got sick and tired of filling endless, what he considered useless forms and, as a joke, developed a formal-looking form on how many coffees people drank that week on his floor. He sent it to the headquarters religiously every Friday. After three months, since there was no reaction, thinking his joke had failed, he stopped sending the report. The next week he got a message, an angry one: where is your coffee consumption report? You are late.I was eating in a dining room of an autocratically managed company. The food was excessively salty. I commented that to the people at my table. One said: that is how the president of that company likes to eat. So we all have to. I doubt that the president gave an order that all executives should eat salty food. The chef decided to do so, just in case a non-saltydish might be served to the autocrat.The headquarters of an autocratically managed company was a series of offices in a compound. One day the president saw a rat. He ordered to bring a cat to the compound. Two were brought in. Today there are sixty of them. They are still multiplying. A budget exists to feed them and give them veterinary care. No one dares to touch those cats. They are considered the president's cats. I wonder if he even knows that it is happening. Fear rules.An autocratic president was walking down the hall with the production manager. As they were walking, in passing, he asked, “How come we do not have a production facility in Brisbane?" The production manager took this as a criticism and an order. The next thing you know, he is planning a facility.The more autocratic the leadership style, the more seriously his or her words are taken. People cannot even joke.

Written by
Dr. Ichak Adizes