>Diplomacy and the Pitfalls of Dictatorship

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Let’s say yes to sound governance, and no to absolute power…

Power is a strange thing: the more you have, the more you want – it’s never enough. It’s an addiction of the soul that often results in poor decision-making and project failure.

I remember a teacher in high school that used to repeat to us the maxim that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Obviously someone has to be in charge and get things done, but there is more than one way to achieve results:

The first and crudest method that we have seen since the dawn of humankind is dictatorship. This is the aforementioned tendency for those in power to collect it, savor it, and protect it—and to want to wield it alone. Often those with power, not enlightened by the benefits of sharing and “checks and balances,” like to hold decision-making power for themselves. While perhaps made “in consultation” with others, it is their decision and theirs alone to make. Thus, decisions by the individual are more subjective, prone to mistakes, and driven as much by gut, intuition, and personal whim as by real facts. Furthermore, those who have to carry out the decisions do not understand them as well and are not as committed to their success because they weren’t fully part of the process.

A better method is diplomacy, when we work with others to strategize, collaborate, and vet decisions. Working with others in this way may often costs more in terms of time and effort upfront to “work though the issues,” but invariably these result in better and less-costly decisions being made in the long run. Diplomacy works especially well when the group you are working with is diverse and can bring a variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. You end up seeing things in ways that you would have missed otherwise.

Working through the decision process with others on a governance body (councils, boards, committees)—with individuals representing the universe of our stakeholders—provides a solid mechanism for all perspectives to be heard and for decisions to be scrutinized and challenged before being implemented. This is what good governance is all about.

Of course, there are occasions when diplomacy may fail and governance bodies may become dysfunctional. When groups fail to work together, dictators can sweep in and take over or, on the other hand, there can result endless bickering, a state of analysis paralysis, and no decisions being made at all. This is why governance must be well defined, structured, have an end-to-end process, and clear roles and responsibilities.

Although sometimes dictators can be brilliant and effective in getting things done and we can all think of business leaders who fit this style, too often these individuals can become drenched in their own “absolute power”—falling victim to ego and selfishness, and making decisions that are not in the best interest of the organization. This is a condition that must be countered with solid, structured organizational governance, in which decision-makers work with others collaboratively and share in the decision-making process, and the collective interests and those of the organization as a whole are put above those of the individual. In this way, diplomacy protects us from the whims and errors of dictatorship.

This is one of the nice things about our system of government, where despite the many strong differences of opinion and results that we may not always agree with, the system of checks and balances results in governance by the people for the people, where everybody has a chance to participate and be heard.

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