How Leaders Become Dictators

How do leaders go to the dark side?

There are plenteous lessons to be learned. As far back as you care to recall in your history books, mankind has sought to control others.

Ancient empires: Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans. More recently: Nazis, Communists, Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez.

Regardless of political ideology, it appears one of the great sins of mankind is POWERMONGERING. Power over others, over minds and thoughts, over actions and over freedoms.

That’s the thesis of a recent Emmy Award winning TV series on Hulu: The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on the bestselling book (1985) by Margaret Atwood, a prolific author and poet of “speculative fiction” by which she means, her stories could happen.

From my binge viewing, her dystopian tales of Gilead, the new country that emerged following a massive Civil War in the United States, this story is happening now.

Consider the headlines (we’re not quite sure of the facts, since true journalism has been lost to us for some time now):

· Covid-19 Pandemic (Atwood’s Tale has a global pandemic of infertility as the result of massive worldwide pollution).

· Protests turned riots in the streets. Peaceful and meaningful protests have been hijacked by anarchists whose only goal seems to be the destruction of everything in their path. The efforts to protect citizens and property in affected cities is either enhanced or severely limited by the politics of authorities in each state or locality. (In The Handmaid’s Tale, protests and riots are not allowed, but when they break out the consequences are severe: for days after, bodies are found hanging in front of homes, along city walls and streets; other non-lethal punishments are nearly as severe.)

In Gilead, gender identity became the single most important issue. Women, in the name of a return to biblical morality, are reduced to staying at home. Removed from their roles of cultural significance: scientists, professors, authors, etc., the rich women become overseers of their home who are allowed knitting and gardening. The middle class’ daughters are forced into arranged marriages, and most germane to the title, the proven fertile women are forced into sex labor as “handmaidens.” On them lies the entire future of mankind’s hope to procreate.

Here are a few parallels today:

· Increasing loss of identity, voice and freedom. The Cancel Culture seems to want to silence all voices and people with whom they disagree or who may stand in opposition to them.

· Fundamental extremism: found in many places around the world. From governments to churches, wonky things happen when all dissent is viewed as a threat to “Our One Way” of doing things.

· It becomes more and more obvious that reducing society to manageable and fearful citizenry is the goal. It worked for the New England Puritans. It worked for Hitler and Stalin. If the intelligentsia are eliminated or muted, dissent doesn’t work its way into the headlines and public consciousness.

· Gender identity has been under non-stop attack for decades in our world.

· Media elites determine what is news and what isn’t. What events are reported and which aren’t.

· Control by a few replaces the collective voices and opinions of the many. Goodbye, Democracy.

· And the Regime remains safe.

Let’s presume you don’t agree with this assessment. Or, you simply don’t see these trends in our culture today. Then let’s address the leadership concerns. How did this happen? Or, how might this happen today?

· Loss of Vision and Focus

· Loss of communication

· Rise of the Sycophant Syndrome

· Loss of personal care for others

Entire chapters, if not books, might be dedicated to each of these bullet points. And most likely should be. But this brief list begins with a weakened leadership in organizations at all levels. A creeping malaise or a more aggressive malevolent pathology invades top leaders. It affects their thinking, reasoning and behaviors.

They lose original focus on vision and mission. Or, more darkly, because of long-term corruption of those ideals, the vision has changed.

As a result, there is no longer healthy dialogue within the organization. Dissenting voices are marginalized and eventually, removed from “the table.” Consequently, only the totally agreeable voices remain — the sycophants. When leaders require exclusively agreeable voices, incentives to improve are squelched, innovation is lost, and suddenly, only the leader’s voice matters — in all things.

At this stage, it has become clear to (almost) everyone that individuals no longer matter. There is no longer a concern for the employees, their professional, personal or spiritual wellbeing. No longer does leadership even pretend.

Individuals cease to matter. Or to exist at all in the corporate view. Leadership becomes completely transactional.

Individual freedoms go missing.

“Our Way or the Highway” replaces thoughtful dialogue, concern or even polite dissent.

Where will it end? Please, God. Not in Gilead

Norm Mintle

Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in two universities.

Speculative Fiction Coming to Life?

Media executive. Educator. Leader. Innovator.