Dilbert creator Scott Adams says he could never be a good boss because leadership requires a deep and innate sense of evil. “After all,” he said in an interview I read, “the job is to get people to do things they don’t want to do on their own.” He goes on to say that the reason Dilbert thinks his job sucks is that “his boss is an ass.”
Reading this stopped me in my tracks. Are all leaders innately evil? Are we all asses?
Most of us have worked for the proverbial ass. Are we just like them? If not, then why not? After all, if we are leaders, we are charged with getting real stuff done, stuff that matters to some sort of third party. In the case of IBEX, we need to design, write, test, and support software for our customers and our customers demand that we do it well. This takes a lot of work by many people. Doing the things these customers want necessarily takes our staff away from their families and other passions in order to make a living. Put this way, we leaders are indeed charged with getting things done through the efforts of people who don’t want to do them. Perhaps we are indeed evil! But perhaps not.
Here is the difference between the evil leader and us. The evil leader tries to coerce people into getting things done through guilt, motivational speeches, internal competition, threats and intimidation, promises of future raises, silly rules, and excessive bureaucracy, while ignoring core values when they get in the way. We have all met bosses like this. It is all about them getting ahead and/or keeping their position by getting their staff working hard. It is all about them tricking staff into doing stuff they don’t really want to do or getting them working longer and harder than they want to. Bosses like this act like asses. For many people, this is the only kind of boss they have ever known. Perhaps this is all Scott Adams ever knew—and how he was inspired to create Dilbert.
A good leader, on the other hand, takes the time to understand each of their staff: what they are good at; what they like to do; what matters to them; and what their personal goals are. In short, they ask good questions and they listen, and they observe their team in action. Further, they figure out the most important things the team needs to get done to please customers and those above them in the organization. They stick to core values. They communicate the important stuff clearly and creatively and they make sure work gets done by people who will get personal satisfaction from performing the tasks to which they are assigned. They also try and help each of their staff reach their personal goals, while employees do their best to reach their work goals. When we focus on getting the important stuff done while treating each person as an individual and sticking to our core values, we show the type of grit and courage that binds great people to the team and to the leader. In short, we become good leaders, not evil ones.
Scott Adams should stay away from good leaders like us. Dilbert might actually start enjoying his job.