How to Stop the Dictator-Manager’s Reign of Terror

BY Kathy Crosett
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Are any of your managers running their departments like a dictatorship? One sign may be poor results or productivity. Another sign may be high employee turnover.  Daniel Goleman, in a column for the American Management Association’s Playbook, tells readers that targeting emotional intelligence goes to the heart of improving the behavior of dictators.

Your first step in softening the reign of terror being inflicted on employees in any of your departments is to watch for signs of trouble. Long before productivity plunges and employees start running for the exits, you may be able to detect that one of your managers routinely insists on having tasks executed the way she wants them done. She may be raising her voice at her employees, a behavior that’s never acceptable. Or, she may publicly berate her employees for making mistakes.

You’ll need to stop this behavior by addressing it directly. Goleman suggests talking to the manager and, without confrontation, ask what she is trying to accomplish and where she’d like to see herself and her department in 3 years or 5 years. Another strategy is to ask the employee to name a few business leaders she admires and would like to pattern herself after. Taking this approach allows your employee to establish a positive goal and to work towards it.

Some leading psychologists link dictatorship tendencies to problems experienced during the attachment period of emotional development in childhood. Children who don’t form an attachment with a caregiver tend not to feel soothed, secure or safe. In response, some individuals may develop a set of behaviors to help them feel secure.

While some dictatorship qualities can be positive – such as those that focus on completing a mission and maintaining high standards – your manager has to understand that her employees are only human. She must learn that managing humans is a process of give and take.  She’ll also need to learn about her triggers. Is the reason she’s yelling at an employee who made a mistake actually all about her feeling insecure in her position as a manager? Through effective coaching, done internally or externally, your dictator-​manager can learn to identify unacceptable behavior and can understand why she has these tendencies and when they tend to surface in the course of her job.

Once she recognizes when her actions are out of bounds, she’ll also need to develop a new set of responses to her triggers and change course as soon as she starts down the wrong track. As she succeeds in practicing new behaviors to deal with her insecurities, your entire organization will benefit.