In today's economic environment, organizations are filled with managers who are authoritarian by definition. They are the ones who take charge, drive the process and show little mercy for those who get in their way. However, this form of leadership is, at best, outdated, causing good employees to lose interest in excelling at their current jobs, while simultaneously looking for employment opportunities with other businesses. Consequently, it begs the question, after years of practicing a certain style of management, can someone really change his or her approach?


    Drs. Mobley and McCall specify that over 60% of all US employees surveyed make mention that the greatest cause of stress within their lives stems from their bosses. The report goes on to say, "Research in cross-cultural settings has reinforced the general conclusion that leaders must be flexible. They do not simply follow a script, but must assess the situation and act appropriately." Unfortunately, authoritarians have a difficult time making proper assessments. What drives them is performance, usually on the short-term basis. As a result, good workers are likely to leave, as well as new employees who show promise.


    The French philosopher René Descartes proclaimed, "I think, therefore I am." Using his statement as a platform, those who think they can't change probably will not. However, those authoritarian leaders who recognize the need for transforming their methods of leadership have the ability within themselves to do so. As the old adage goes, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," might be true in some respects. Fortunately, leaders are not dogs; they're human beings who have the ability to learn and reason. Therefore, the question is not a lack of ability, but of choice.


    This is not to make light the difficulty of having to change, especially when someone has been an abrasive boss for many years. Nonetheless, positive transformation can occur if the person in question is serious enough to take on such a task. In addition, the leader who finds the need for change will likely do so when he or she discovers that: (a) it is in the organization's, as well as in their own, best interest, (b) they understand the action steps needed within the change process and (c) the expected results after change occurs.


    Autocratic leaders employed in the private sector (excluding the military environment) must understand they potentially have a greater risk of hurting their organizations in addition to themselves. Drs. Stein and Book suggest leaders of this nature are at risk of driving distance between themselves and their employees without understanding the reasons why and can also increase their blood pressure as well as develop ulcers. To compound this problem, stress hormones do not go away when people leave the working environment. On the other hand, it continues to circulate throughout the body for hours on end, resulting in less time to relax and infecting their family members with their own given stress. Thus, employees are four times more likely to leave under these circumstances than if they were to work for a manager who is kind and patient. As Marcus Buckingham once said, "People join companies and leave managers." But the good news is that commanding leaders can change if they fully comprehend the physiological signs with how change occurs.


    One of the best solutions to this dilemma is through training. Unfortunately, organizations all over North America have spent in excess of $60 billion in instructional programs with minimal results. Why? Because repeatedly, people just go through the motions with a particular phase their organization is accentuating, only to dissipate within the next couple of weeks. Consequently, the emphasis for change should be placed not only on the organizational (social) needs, but also on the personal or biological needs of the leader in question.


    To comprehend this idea more fully, it becomes necessary to be familiar with the functions of the human brain. For instance, when one experiences stress (or what is otherwise called in more medical terms as, a stressor, whether it be from psychological or sociological causes), the information generated is transmitted to the brain, particularly the sub-cortex. Within this portion of the brain is found the thalamus and hypothalamus (also known as the limbic system). Hence, the thalamus relays sensory impulses to the greater function of the brain in this case, the cerebral cortex, while the hypothalamus instructs the autonomic nervous system. As a result, the limbic system is connected to emotions and how one expresses them. On the other hand, the cerebral cortex controls higher functions, such as language and judgment. For example, when a stressor occurs in which the brain registers as threatening, the cerebral cortex has the ability to change the information to something less intimidating, which can eliminate the message of fear.


    Consequently, when one understands this process, it becomes easier to see how changing one's leadership style can happen over time. However, this is not to suggest a pat-answer altering one's style of leadership after years of practice can be very difficult. Nevertheless, it can be done by recognizing the initial signs that produce authoritarian responses and through plenty of practice. Thus, establishing habit-forming responses becomes imperative. It is also helpful to express the desire to change with a colleague who knows you personally. In this case, sharing personal and/or professional frustrations can help sort out stressors as they appear. As a result, when employees see their managers trying to be more accommodating, chances are, they will give the said leader the benefit of the doubt when a stressor presents itself.


    However, it is not to suggest that authoritarian managers are to simply lie down and become passive. On the contrary, they must be direct with their employees, demonstrating they are still the leaders within their given organizations. But using an example found in military history, the Pulitzer Prize World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle recognized that great leaders can be direct, as well as kind, as he stated: "We have won because we have had magnificent top leadership, at home and in our Allies and with ourselves overseas. Surely, America made its two perfect choices in General Eisenhower and General Bradley. They are great men to me, doubly great because they are direct and kind."


    Therefore, leaders must find the balance between kindness and taking charge, as Ernie Pyle recognized in both Eisenhower and Bradley. And what was the result of their actions? Their styles of leadership helped win the war. As leaders within the mailing industry with regards to today's generation, or for any other business for that matter, leaders must find ways of showing kindness while they lead other employees. When this occurs, they should experience less turnover, a reduction of people calling in sick and increased productivity while maintaining a happy workforce.


    When pondering René Descartes statement, "I think, therefore I am," an authoritative leader can recognize that change is quite possible, provided he or she is committed to altering the way he or she thinks. This is not to suggest that the process is easy. However, with over 60% of employees surveyed stating their chief cause of stress comes from their managers, it becomes imperative for leaders to see the need of becoming less abrasive if they desire to maintain a quality workforce.


    Dr. Bruce Macdonald is employed with the Christian Broadcasting Network as the Manager of Production Mail. In addition, he is also the Industry Chairman for the Hampton Roads Postal Customer Council. For more information, contact Dr. Macdonald at 757-226-3356 or