The successful launch of Meta’s Threads has been all over the news. In under a week, the Twitter alternative rocketed to over 100 million users, aided by its easy sign-up process. The meteoric rise of Threads caught everyone off guard, including the media and its main competitor Twitter. So far, the only response of the latter has been a promise of litigation against Meta for supposedly stealing its trade secrets. And there has also been Elon Musk’s request to measure and compare various appendages. Neither seems to be stealing any of Meta’s thunder as its new social media platform continues to grow.
It is early days for Threads, and too soon to tell if it can dethrone Twitter. The latest social media platform is still in its infancy and lacks some of the basic functionality of its rival. Its massive membership surge could quickly peak and slow down. And whether people will actually stay on the app and use it remains to be seen. But Mark Zuckerberg must be smiling and hoping his latest lookalike launch continues Meta’s epic stock price comeback.
Beyond putting a smile on The Zuck’s face, there is a lot to learn from the launch of Threads. One of the harshest lessons is how company leaders can fall into the “dictator trap” by making poor decisions and blinding themselves to their competition. What is the dictator trap, and how can you avoid it? Read on to find out. In this article, we will explain the following:
-What the dictator trap is
-Why some leaders keep falling into it
-And the critical steps you can take to avoid falling into a trap of your own
WHAT IS THE DICTATOR TRAP?
Throughout history, there have been multiple examples of dictators making extremely stupid decisions. Adolf Hitler somehow thought that launching Operation Barbarossa and invading the vast space of the Soviet Union was a brilliant idea. Saddam Hussein believed the United States wouldn’t bother defending the tiny country of Kuwait. Then he mistakenly reasoned that the United States wouldn’t invade Iraq for a second time. More recently, Vladimir Putin deduced that his troops could take Kiev in a matter of days. The list of horrible decisions by despots goes on and on.
Often these poor decisions have resulted in the deaths of thousands, the destruction of countries and even the demise of the dictators that made them. So why do despots keep making them? Because they have a habit of surrounding themselves with the wrong people, hearing only what they want to, operating in bubbles and letting their massive egos dictate almost everything. This often leads to non-sensical decisions being made in informational and reality vacuums that have massive consequences. And it doesn’t just happen to tyrants but business leaders of companies of all sizes. While it won’t destroy a country, it can definitely damage your brand.
HOW DOES IT APPLY TO THE LAUNCH OF THREADS?
There is no question that Elon Musk is a visionary with some amazing accomplishments, but the acquisition and running of Twitter probably won’t be in his highlight reel. Since being forced to acquire Twitter, he has gone on a massive cost-cutting spree axing most of its employees. Taking the company private means he has no public investors to answer to. Acting as Tweeter CEO until recently, Musk seemed to be making decisions on his own without much input. Or those around him were cheering him on and agreeing with his every move. Not agreeing with some of those moves were advertisers who have fled with Musk recently stating ad revenue is down by 50%. And frustrated users are looking for alternatives as the constant changes piled up, degrading their site experience and pushing them to subscribe to Twitter Blue.
The launch of Threads was perfectly timed as yet another change seemingly made on a whim had angered Twitter’s user base. People flocked to Threads in droves with the social media platform smashing sign-up expectations. Musk seemed blindsided by the popularity of Threads, and his response so far has been rather lame. The long-term impact on Twitter remains to be seen, but a well-funded and received competitor is the last thing it needs right now. Had Musk gotten better counsel and not operated in such a vacuum, he could have more clearly seen Thread for the threat it is. And the rollouts of changes to the user experience could have been lessened or better explained to prevent an exodus of users.
LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR
Despots have many different personality traits and quirks, but one of the most unifying is their massive egos. After all, they rose to the top, took over a country and led it with an iron fist. And somehow, they keep various factions, rebel groups and varying interests in check while running a country. It is an achievement anyone could be proud of if it weren’t for the repression, summary executions, lack of free speech, corruption and rigged elections typical of dictatorships.
Large egos can also be found among some business leaders. Like their dictatorial counterparts, they have risen through the ranks to lead their companies. Many built their businesses from the ground up with their own sweat, blood and money. Being proud of accomplishments is good, but an overly inflated ego is always the genesis of falling into the dictator trap. Sound leadership comes from listening to multiple viewpoints and making informed decisions free from ego. Once you start believing you are always the smartest person in the room, you stop learning and shut down input from others. And it creates a domino effect responsible for many of the triggers of the dictator trap listed below. Give our blog post “Eight Management and Leadership Lessons from 8,000 Miles of Hard Racing” a read to discover how setting aside one’s ego can make a difference.
AVOID THE “YES MEN”
One of the biggest causes of the dictator trap is that despots typically surround themselves with “yes men.” Disagreeing with a dictator is seen as a direct attack on their sense of power and ego. How can they be the smartest in the room and in control if someone is countering that? Usually, anyone who does winds up on an “extended vacation” in a distant work camp. Others see what happens to anyone with a different opinion and agree with any decision regardless of how stupid it is. The next thing you know, you are invading the Soviet Union with only five months until winter.
The rise of yes men in a company is usually less overt. Employees aren’t put up against a wall and shot for having differences of opinion. But they will more than likely keep their mouths shut if doing so isn’t a good career move. Even worse, employees might agree with everything their boss says if they see others being punished for having divergent viewpoints. Either is not a good scenario, as having varying opinions, thoughts and constructive critiques are vital to sound decision-making. Everyone’s ego likes to hear that they are correct, but surrounding yourself with yes men is a surefire way to do the business equivalent of invading Ukraine.
HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Tyrants value loyalty above all else. It is why they often put family members, close friends or sycophants in positions of power. Dictators want to know that the people around them aren’t going to stab them in the back (literally). Competency doesn’t matter as long as someone is loyal. It is why Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close friend of Putin, is widely seen as incompetent but hasn’t been replaced. And it is why Putin is now purging any military leaders questioning whether everything is going perfectly in Ukraine with more agreeable ones. Often, these very people lead a dictator into a fatal mistake with their incompetence and yes-men nature.
Hiring the right people is critical to avoiding the dictator trap. Ideally, you want your employees to be loyal, but it isn’t the only factor, as getting assassinated or coups shouldn’t be a significant concern. What matters most is that your employees know what they are doing. Surrounding yourself with friends, family members and ego-strokers might feel good, but it doesn’t lead to skilled leaders capable of making the right decisions for your brand. Save that for despots and make hiring competent people a priority.
LISTEN TO YOUR EMPLOYEES
If Hitler had listened to his generals, we might all speak German now. Or, at least, most of Europe would. The high command of the Third Reich was actually highly competent. But the problem was that Hitler didn’t listen to any of them. His giant ego got in the way, and he always thought he was the most intelligent person in the room. Even though Hitler never rose higher than the rank of Gefreiter (Private 1st Class) in World War I serving as a runner, he believed he was a military genius. He was constantly overriding the decisions of his experienced and skilled generals. His orders to never surrender and lack of skill cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers. The Allies refrained from assassinating him, fearing a competent general might take his place.
This all might seem preposterous, and that’s because it was. However, similar scenarios play out across companies all the time. They go through great pains to hire the right people and then tell those skilled people precisely what to do. Whether it is micro-managers or others trying to display that they are the smartest, doing so negates any positive impact those employees can have. It is not enough to surround yourself with competent people. You also must listen to and empower them to make a difference. It leads to better decision-making and also to happier and more productive employees. Our latest blog post gives eight great additional ways to increase productivity for those looking for more tips.
DON’T BELIEVE YOUR OWN “PROPAGANDA”
Propaganda plays a central role in propping up any dictatorship. North Korea’s propaganda efforts are infamous for portraying Kim Jong Un as a benevolent, all-knowing, god-like leader responsible for anything good in the hermit kingdom. And its military is the most powerful in the world, easily capable of vanquishing any foe. Reality is far different as North Korea faces severe challenges like famine, a dismal economy, horrible repression and its military ranks 35th globally. The serious problems start when dictators detach themselves from reality and start to believe their own propaganda leading to dumb decisions.
Marketing is a bit like propaganda. Sure, you are not trying to position your CEO as a god, but you are trying to make people think positively about your products and brand. And there might be some embellishment or exaggeration along the way to accomplish that. Just like dictators fall into a trap by believing their own propaganda, the problems start when you do the same with your marketing. Despots might have the luxury of being detached from reality, but business leaders do not. Any decisions you make should be clear-eyed and based on an accurate understanding of your brand’s current state and its strength and weaknesses.
THE DICTATOR BRAIN DRAIN
Working for a dictator isn’t exactly a fun experience for anyone involved. Most spend their time trying to avoid saying or doing the wrong thing for fear of execution. Others don’t want to appear to be too intelligent or resourceful, as that could be perceived as a challenge to El Jefe. Turnover among a tyrant’s staff can be high and usually involves work camps or “accidentally” falling out of a window. It is not exactly an environment that breeds innovation and productivity. Those that can leave usually do, leading to an exodus of the best and brightest and creating a brain drain.
That same brain-drain scenario is currently playing out at a multitude of companies. CEOs ruthlessly lay off thousands and then demand those employees left work even harder and longer hours. Or they require that all employees return to the office full-time while they “Zoom in” from a hotel suite or yacht. The list of out-of-touch mistakes can go on and on, but the results are usually the same: employees leave the company, and those that remain are trying to figure out how to escape. Remembering that your employees are your most valuable asset and treating them as such is the best way to avoid brain drain. Managing with empathy not only keeps them from leaving but also creates a better company culture. And, as our blog post explains, having the right company culture can be your company’s secret weapon.
IT IS OKAY TO BE WRONG
A dictator will never admit to being wrong. In the mind of a despot, doing so questions their authority and makes them look weak. Often, they will “double down” even if they are wrong to prove that they are in charge, and no one should question that. Any decision a dictator makes can’t be challenged or critiqued. Pol Pot infamously declared it “Year Zero” when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975. Anything before 1975 was to be eradicated in an attempt to erase history and transform the nation into a pre-industrial agrarian utopia. It was a horrific decision that led to the death of 2 million Cambodians, a complete economic collapse and an invasion by Vietnam to end the madness. But anyone questioning Pol Pot was put up against a wall and shot.
Business leaders aren’t genocidal maniacs, but some can share a similar fear of admitting to being wrong for fear of looking weak or incompetent. But true leadership involves a heavy dose of ownership and owning your mistakes. Contrary to what most dictators think, doing so actually shows strength. You are letting your employees know you are not some infallible and omnipotent being. Instead, you take responsibility for your good and bad decisions just as they should. And you are willing to learn from your mistakes to make yourself a better leader and build a better brand.
WE CAN HELP YOU AVOID THE TRAP
Kahn Media is a full-service and fully-integrated marketing agency with in-house teams specializing in public relations, event management, influencer relations, content creation, digital marketing and social media management. We can work as a turn-key marketing department for your brand or quickly integrate with your own. With our years of experience in launching and growing brands, we can also serve as strategic advisors. We can help you avoid the dictator trap by assisting you in making informed decisions and guiding your brand toward growth and profitability. Contact us today to see how we can help.