The Dictator-by-Default Syndrome

After endless discussions the boss makes a final decision but only few people like it. Reaching collective decisions can be painful and the root cause if often thought to be a matter of teamwork or communication. In this HBR article the problem is addressed from a processual point of view.

When The Boss is Always Wrong

Dictator-by-Default Syndrome

Reaching a collective decision can be tricky. In the example in the article there are tree options to choose from and no majority can be found. The boss makes a final decision and, unfortunately, what ever he choses will be a “bad” choice. This voting paradox results in the boss being “always wrong”.

In the article the author calls this the Dictator-by-Default Syndrome.

How to Improve the Decision Making Process

The Dictator-by-Default Syndrome is actually a problem in the decision making process. Here are some tactics to improve the process and avoid the The Dictator-by-Default Syndrome.

  • Articulate clearly what outcome you are seeking
  • Provide a range of options for achieving outcomes
  • Test fences and walls
  • Surface preferences early
  • State each option’s pros and cons
  • Devise new options that preserve the best features of existing ones

Two Essential Ground Rules

The tactics can be used singly or all together but in order to make them effective two rules must be followed:

  • Deliberate confidentially: a secure climate for the conversation
  • Think about an appropriate time frame: give participants time to digest the options



This blog is a digital memory for me. I store nuggets of information, ideas and resources on these pages so that I can access and share them easily at any time, from everywhere. I always felt a strong passion for continuous improvement and that is why I am now super happy to be a professional Scrum Master. Scrum, Kanban, Agile Project Management, Coaching, Learning and Self Management are my passions and that is also what my blog is about ...

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