The Semco Style 5 Principles to transform the way we work
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Democracy Through Dictatorship

Build the momentum for democracy top-down

This may not seem like leadership in action, but it is. Successful leadership isn’t dictatorship. It injects fundamental ideas and processes into the bloodstream of an organization and of individuals who see things the same way but lack the leverage to carry them out on their own– Ricardo Semler

In a Nutshell


Human beings don’t like change, and in many ways working in a hierarchical organization is a comfortable way to work. People might passionately complain about the company structure or the methods of management. But, the hierarchy allows them to be free from taking up any real responsibility. It leaves them with neither the power nor the will to do anything about the sources of their woes. In a conventional organization, every day might be predictable and uninspiring too – but, there are no surprises pushing people out of their comfort zones.

It’s true that, in the long run, people will find more happiness, job satisfaction and purpose within a flatter, horizontal organization. However, cultivating a new mindset, creating the momentum for change and introducing democracy at the workplace takes time, patience and a strong will. In other words, the leadership heralding change in a conventional organization need to stick to their dictatorial ways to nudge people out of their comfort zones and make them listen.

Sure, it’s paradoxical and hardly the way you’d expect the advent of democracy to be. However, to break down years of hierarchy, leaders need to embrace their inner dictator one last time. For, if they tried to jump straight into democracy, without first creating an environment that’s conducive, it might take a long, long time to usher in change. Worse, it may derail the whole movement even before it began.

Therefore, the first steps towards organizational democracy need to be through some key, top-down decisions that have the power to create the necessary momentum for change. People need to see, through imposed decisions and actions, that their leaders’ desire to change the work culture isn’t fleeting. Rather, it should reveal the concrete steps being taken to bring about change. And, when these enforced decisions create the right environment, democracy and a people-centric organizational culture can take seed and grow.


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