Are you working for a Benevolent Dictatorship?

Corporations are benevolent dictatorships, not democracies.”


A good friend of mine recalls hearing this quote some years ago. An important staff meeting had just ended and employees were venting at the water cooler. The meeting was apparently one of those invited gatherings where ‘the welfare of stakeholders’ and ‘the breaking down of silos’ blah blah both had top billing.

Alas, it can be a rude awakening to realize that teams, divisions and the corporate entity itself are often NOT big happy families where decisions are made by ’empowered’ employees and then implemented by mutual consent.

One of the reasons I’m writing a book on self-coaching for (IT) people in career transition, is to offer tools for surviving, and maybe even thriving, in these types of organizational environments during their ‘escape from wage slavery.’

(Note that this does NOT mean handing in your notice and then living hand-to-mouth for the rest of your life. I prefer to see career change as a spectrum of possibilities and timeframes at which you take aim.)

With the ‘benevolent dictatorship’ imagery in mind, I would encourage you to read David Brady’s post on “Loyalty and Layoffs“, and especially the comments. (He wrote a number of followup posts to clarify his thinking about loyalty and trust towards an employer/corporation. Start with the post I linked to.)

Once you’ve read it, try this:

For employees: to what degree are you loyal to your employer? To your manager? To your coworkers? To your firm’s products and customers? And where does trust fit into these relationships?

Early in my career path I found it easier to be loyal (in the sense of duty and honour), than to trust.
Subsequent events vindicated that approach for me and morphed into a career affirmation that goes:

“Your career is your own and you form it.”

More about that approach in the book.

Posted in Career Change
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3 comments on “Are you working for a Benevolent Dictatorship?
  1. Jacinta Hin says:

    Mark, you offer good food for thought. Is it trust that keeps you going, despite the difficulties of and moments of profound unhappiness in any work environment, or loyalty? It’s a fine line between the two, and a confusing one. Good to ask yourself that question. And then, when you have the answer….the question that follows: what is next?

  2. Mark McClure says:

    Thanks for your comment.

    It’s partly semantics but a public corporation run as a benevolent dictatorship with its ‘command and control’ approach to organizational management (hire and fire, my way or the highway etc) has some merits.
    Loyal staffers get paid and flayed(!) while required, a bunch of stuff gets done, and various stakeholders acquire and sometimes lose great wealth. (You can see how much of the kool-aid I’ve imbibed over the years…)

    I wonder though if it’s time is done. (The Internet is a big black swan here imo.) It’s not so much the technology itself (AI, robotics, global communications, “500 million hungry kids with a laptop”) as what new generations of people will do to take advantage of the possibilities.

    BTW, have you read Ricardo Semler’s book, Maverick?
    It’s a cracking read and was one of the sources that helped inform my own decision to escape the beast’s clutches. At the time, I thought his ideas would never catch on among the large corporate dinosaurs. And I was right since, by definition, these legal constructs are indeed soulless and driven by entirely different motives. (See ‘benevolent dictatorship’.)


  3. David Brady says:

    I would make a subtle but important distinction here: Corporations are simply dictatorships; they are not necessarily benevolent. The amazing standout companies we hear about all have benevolence in spades: Novell in the 80’s, Saturn in the 90’s, Google in the 00’s. But all the “sad company” stories we hear about are companies that have lost their benevolence and started eating their own children: Novell in the 90’s, Saturn being reabsorbed into GM, Google in the 10’s. I think the most powerful thing we can learn and teach others is that while companies think benevolence is optional, we as employees have the power to say “No. No it isn’t. And if you don’t shape up, then your dictatorship–at least of ME–will become optional.”

    The “Job For Life” is gone. Once you grieve for it and get that over with, and accept that your company has no loyalty to you, it becomes very empowering: you realize that YOU have the power to create all the things for yourself that you were hoping the company would provide.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with “easier to be loyal than to trust”. Several people replied to my post concerned–even angered–that I was advocating taking a company’s money and then being actively disloyal to that company. Not my aim at all. I ended up explaining and re-explaining in the comments that we have a professional duty to execute, and it’s on us and our own honor to fulfill that so long as we’re cashing our employer’s paychecks.

    After a great deal of reflection on the matter, I wrote a followup post in which I basically reworded my original statement of “loyalty to a corporation is sick” to “trusting a corporation is sick”, or, if you prefer, “expecting loyalty from a corporation is foolish.” I ended up writing this followup post, “Loyalty and Trust”: . It’s not as compelling a story because it didn’t come from such a deep place of anguish inside myself, but it does clarify the Loyalty – Trust – Vulnerability triangle in much clearer detail.

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