The Danger of Dogmatic Leaders

I was recently in a local Walgreen’s and the person in front of me was talking to the cashier about the fact that Michigan is about to put a tax on soda (”pop” for those of you from other areas). The conversation goes like this:

Customer: “So, my son says they are going to start taxing soda. I think we’ve got about enough taxes.”

Cashier: “Yeah, it’s going to be a Socialist state before long. We’re turning into Russian Communists.”

What does paying too much in sales taxes have to do with being Socialists? And how does being a Socialist state with too many taxes have anything to do with Russian Communists? And how does this conversation begin because Pepsi is about to be taxed in Michigan? By the way, the conversation ended with both of them nodding sympathetically to each other so apparently it was me that missed the point.

As I thought about this later it occurred to me that this kind of thinking, and these conversations, happen all of the time because of our tendency to be so dogmatic in our thinking that it doesn’t matter what is said. We have our opinion and, because it is our opinion, it is correct. If the customer had said, “They are going to repave the road,” it is just as likely that the cashier would have brought up the Socialist / Communist issue. By definition, dogmatic people have beliefs that are to be undisputed and do not require any particular basis in fact. I believe it because I believe it and if you don’t believe it, you are wrong.

Dogmatic leaders don't use reason. They use volume!

Many leaders that we see in the media are dogmatic leaders. Their beliefs are the only facts they need. If you follow them, you follow them without question because their beliefs are the truth. Often they present evidence, but it doesn’t have to be strong because it is only window dressing to the real issue which is that they are right and everybody else is wrong.

IStock_000003032282XSmall  This behavior causes many dysfunctions. For one thing, followers of leaders that are dogmatic have no idea why they believe what they believe…only that their leader does. This creates a dysfunctional situation where the follower may hear or see discrediting evidence about the leader but can not accept it as evidence because…well…because their followership is based primarily on belief about the leader, not on evidence. So, when an auditor starts to question the ethics of decisions, or business results start to decline because the decisions are poor, neither the leader nor the followers will challenge the practices because they are “right.”

It is also impossible to compromise with dogmatic leaders because there is no compromise to be had. It is a hallmark of our current politics that many leaders have taken an unbending position (on the right and the left) based on ideology and not on the needs or wants of the people. Dogmatic leaders tell people what they should believe and then poll them, using the results as proof that they are right. This circular approach creates a no-lose situation for the Dogmatic Leader.

Truly effective leaders have to understand that the strength of their convictions is based on what they believe to be true at the time. Leaders who care about the welfare of their followers take the time for open discussion and consideration of options. Even when they are sure of themselves, they are always seeking indications that their direction or opinion might need adjustment. These leaders do not measure the intelligence of others by how closely others agree with them, but by how willing others are to be innovative and accountable to the outcomes. They start with the problem and work their way to a solution, not the other way around.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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