Surprisingly, management by fear is not as uncommon as one would think. The “Dictator Boss” is not a myth, it’s an unfortunate reality.
That type of manager typically does not know how to influence, how to lead or how to argue and defend a (his?) point of view. He cannot deal with conflict, or rather should I say resistance. Often a little paranoia is added to the mix – leading to conspiracy theories that can turn into witch hunts – along with a dash of self-importance not to say condescension for others.
I found that those accepting this management style quietly will do so for several reasons:
- Fear of losing their job
- Concerns about not being able to find a new job
- Lack of self-confidence
- Simply not knowing any other management style
Stating the obvious here: the best people will not stay long, either voluntarily after trying desperately to bring value to the company, or because they are pushed out because they “do not fit” the mandatory submissive profile. In a desperate attempt to stop the haemorrhage of good people leaving, retention plans are put in place, but it’s too late.
The company is soon left with a handful of not so adventurous people, who will not dare suggest improvements or innovation, and will simply do what they are told, no more no less. They adopt the head down strategy, so not to attract the wrath of the manager or be next on the list of “people who do not fit”.
The company struggles to retain people and to attract good candidates for key positions: chances are, the ones who left ensured their connections knew about the management by fear, building a reputation for the company.
Clearly, a situation like this is not sustainable in the medium to long term and can only do more harm than good to the company.
The solution, however, is not as easy as removing the “dictator boss” for a simple reason: he/she is also managed by fear, and it can go all the way to the very top of the hierarchy. Fear is in the DNA of the company.
Ultimately, it is down to top management to change that DNA and retain the capacity of being self critical in order for the company to progress and reinvent itself. (Re)Engaging with employees and requesting down to up feedback is a good place to start, and will allow to identify quick wins.