Recently I conversed with a friend who runs a large company. He was struggling with communications challenges typical for groups of 200 or larger. He was trying to figure out how to get his people to make decisions the same way and to say consistent messages regarding the company both internally and externally.
Knowing he liked my writing, I wrote for him a communiqué on the subject referencing my book ROAR! and suggested he send it. He removed the reference to the book and sent the remaining content. When I asked him why, he suggested to me that some consider me too dogmatic. Fascinating! I had to laugh. I am a consultant, speaker and five-time author who pens three business columns a week. I am not a novelist or reporter, I am a columnist with a specific point of view. I hope I am dogmatic. If not, what would I possibly have to say? Why would people follow my writing?
More interesting was this CEO’s fear of dogmatism. On the one hand, he wants– no, he needs –to lead hundreds of people in his company to act and speak in a consistent manner. And yet, he feels negative about boldly and consistently proclaiming a philosophy.
He is not alone. There has been so much emphasis of late on individualism and consensus that the benign concept of dogmatism in leadership has become a pariah. And yet, when we look at the most successful leaders — like those in the title of this column– they have all held and promoted strict, known dogma in their companies and communities. Hence the reason so many people have easily followed them.
The dictionary definition of dogma is straightforward and neutral: A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.
Any company that wants to scale must adhere to dogma. The leaders must set out principles for their company that are authoritative and incontrovertibly true. Jim Collins makes applicable reference to Core Ideologies. As Growth Guru Verne Harnish points out: “You need a few simple rules, repeat them over and over, act as consistently as you can.”
It would be nice if people would just immediately absorb this truth and act consistently, but they don’t. Employees and customers alike need constant reminding to modify their behavior over time. The more dogmatic the leader, the faster the culture develops either through conformity or attrition.
Leaders today are trying to avoid being dictatorial and heavy-handed. They want to seem open-minded and approachable. But this does not preclude being dogmatic. Evangelizing core principles doesn’t mean being close-minded, rather it provides the context and the filters for assessing opportunities and creating policies that enhance performance.
Leaders must have unbending principles that guide them and their companies, or people will simply take any path that suits them. And if the leadership is not evangelizing their dogma at every point, how will new employees or customers understand, absorb and evangelize the principles for which the company stands?
Dogmatic leaders make their worlds simple, conforming and consistent. That is their job. It’s how they lead. This approach allows for scalability and profitability. Anything less, results in chaos and inefficiency.
So pardon me for being dogmatic, but just like other successful leaders, it’s what I am supposed to do. And in that spirit, here are some tips to help you be successfully dogmatic with your team.
1. State it Simply
No need to create a Marxian manifesto. 5 or 6 guiding principles or core values will do. Try and keep them to one brief sentence each and make the meaning clear. Catchy phrases help, but err on the side of understanding over poetics.
2. Test for Truth
If you are running a religion, truth has a high standard since it has to apply to the entire world. For your company, the truth only need apply to the world you are creating. I like to test by adding the words: No matter what! to the phrase and see if it still applies. If it’s always a requirement at your company, it’s truth. If it’s open to interpretation or dependent upon outside forces and variables, then it’s likely supposition rather than truth and should not be part of your dogma.
3. Confirm through Consistency
The real test of dogma comes from demonstrated behavior over time. Many leaders will state a philosophy they solidly believe, but when it comes to running the company under that dogma they fail to act accordingly. We don’t call these people leaders. We call these people hypocrites. If you can’t do it, don’t say it.
4. Promote it Positively
Focus your communication on the positive benefits of your dogma. Share stories of how team members have followed the truth to successful results. You should be firm and consistent with those who stray, but not demeaning or disparaging. Motivate people to follow not out of fear, but out of desire and aspiration.