4 Key Differences Between a Leader and a Dictator

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

When most people hear the word “dictator,” they think of some outrageous characters. Darth Vader, Dr. Evil, certain psychopaths in the headlines. No one thinks of themselves as a dictator.

But dictators in business are a common bunch. They’re just not so easy to spot because they don’t wear a pitch-black exoskeleton. If you’re a leader in business looking to avoid the dark side, you need to know these 3 key differences between a leader and a dictator.

Leaders Inspire, Not Intimidate

Telling an employee, if they don’t get a certain task done on Friday, to not bother coming in on Monday is a classic dictator move.

Dictators use intimidation and fear to ply their employees into getting the job done. The most common fear tactic is the threat of being fired. But dictators can also threaten a demotion, lost vacation time, or a pay cut to get what they want.

The trouble with intimidation—besides the obvious—is that the dictator always has to step in and make threats. Intimidation is a drain on the dictator’s time and energy. Threatened employees will simply never care enough to do the work without the dictator’s intervention.

Inspiring leaders model the behavior and work ethic they wish to see from their team. Leaders understand that, on the whole, people want to work hard and do well. If their team falls behind on a project, leaders step in with extra effort. They show up early and stay until the job is finished, knowing their employees will follow their example.

Leaders Create a Team, Not Rivalry

Rivalries can crop up in many ways. Sometimes a seemingly benign competition can undercut the unity of your team. A sales competition in which there’s only one winner can create a rivalry that harms the whole business. Sometimes, dictators create rivalry through a kind of emotional blackmail. Playing favorites or ignoring employees when you’re unhappy with them is a subtle tactic of tyrants.

Leaders understand that creating competition between team members often backfires. Rivalries erode teamwork. And in the absence of strong teams, employees are less engaged, less creative, and less productive.

Leaders know that teamwork amplifies individual strengths and talents. They help their employees see their own strengths as well as the talents of their teammates. Teams with a strong leader know that an individual’s success boosts the entire team.

Leaders Empower Employees

Dictators, on the other hand, bulldoze their employees. They see themselves as their employees’ boss. They see their employees as tools to accomplish various tasks. The problem with managing as a “boss” is similar to managing with intimidation. Bosses always have to oversee employees to ensure they are doing the right task at the right time.

Leaders see themselves as a coach or mentor to their team members. Recognizing each employee’s strength, a leader encourages the employee to use their talents in their daily work. They give their employees space to use creative solutions in their tasks. When leaders empower their employees, they’re increasing both engagement and innovation.

Leaders Are EQ Geniuses

It’s easier than you think to slip into dictator mode. Any number of workplace stressors can have you bossing your team around like B-movie villain. And therein lies the real difference between leaders and dictators: degree of emotional intelligence. Dictators may excuse their tactics as necessary to achieve business goals. But in fact, dictators are eliciting a host of negative emotions to get their way. They rule by making their employees feel inadequate or fearful.

But when you choose to be a leader, you’re inspiring and empowering your team. Your positive leadership style will build up your employees and help them accomplish more. Not only will you avoid the tired trope of the “horrible boss,” you’ll take your team’s productivity and success to new superhuman heights.





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