Benevolent Dictators

Benevolent Dictators

Barbara made an interesting comment in my recent post on Being the Mayor. She wrote:

[…] I think what really sticks is being the oldest of 4 and the only girl: bossy, yet nurturing. Benevolent dictators lead best. Know of any, anyone?

I know a few people that fit the “oldest, girl, bossy” category, and I find them fascinating to watch. I myself fit in the “older brother” category. As I’ve been thinking more about independence with respect to the Pursuit of Happiness, I think I actually may be headed down the path of Benevolent Dictatorship. It sounds awful on the surface, because here in the U.S. we have the expectation of democratic process as a kind of entitlement that is our birthright. In the context of business, though, this is an attitude that doesn’t fly; when people decide not to participate, it’s the people who choose to act that get to call the shots.

To illustrate that point, I’ve recorded a very short (90 second) audio supplement, retelling a story that I happen to like a lot about The Little Red Hen. Download below, or look for the MP3 player link at the end of this post.


Anyway, I thought I’d throw Barbara’s question out there for commentary. Are YOU a benevolent dictator? Are you OPPRESSED by a benevolent dictator? Is it a good gig? Inquiring minds want to know!


  1. Dave Seah 53 years ago

    Mark: That’s a great clarification of the BD’s role…thanks!

  2. Larry Myers 16 years ago

    My wife and I actually consider each other the evil genius and helpful minion.  We haven’t decided who is who yet. I think it switches from day to day.


  3. Mari M. 16 years ago

    How would you define a benevolent dictator?
    Bossy yet nurturing?

  4. Gavin 16 years ago

    Dude… you have a nice speaking voice! So when can I expect some podcasts?

  5. Dave Seah 16 years ago

    Larry: That sounds really wonderful :-)

    Mari: I personally would define it as someone who insists on having or taking control, and applies it toward his/her own ideas of what “the public good” is. For me, it would be individual empowerment, choice, independence, and the pursuit and accrual of what makes people happy, so long as one’s actions do not infringe on the ability of others to do the same. In the inevitable conflict of interest, the greater good of protecting the system that allows empowerment, etc to florish would be the context for making a decision. I think this is something that’s quite tolerable in a small organization or group because the people tend to be self-selecting, but in a larger group there is likely to be some kind of dissent. To that I always say that people can go start their own group (that’s a fundamental choice). In the case where people feel they don’t have a CONVENIENT or COMFORTABLE choice, and feel stuck…well, I feel for you, but I don’t believe the function of an organization is to do that FOR you. It can be supportive, and encouraging, and have the resources to help you succeed…but it’s not there to put your bum on a soft cushion and tell you what a special person you are. But that’s just the way life would be on the Isle of Dave :-)

    Gavin: Thanks! I wonder what I would podcast about?  That’s sort of the question.

  6. Mark 16 years ago

    Flat organizations that aren’t steeped in hierarchy are great because they empower people to make decisions and take responsibility and act nimbly, without waiting to be told what to do, but they need to have a common goal. The role of the benevolent dictator is to say “This is the goal. This is the official milestone. This is where we profit.” Without that, everyone’s goals are unique and intent on self-sufficing, which can only lead to a lack of cohesion through attempts at individual satisfaction.