By Rangsan Thammaneewong
One of the commonly-held beliefs state that one should avoid the topics of religion or politics where it could create conflicts within a group setting. Because of the potentially polarizing nature of these two highly-charged topics, it’s wise simply to save those conversations for occasions where it isn’t rude to excuse oneself if things get out of hand. Over the years, I have seen countless friendships turn sour simply because their belief systems are ardently opposed when it comes to religion and politics.
Today, I’m venturing into dangerous waters to share some thoughts around politics. As I consult in topics around business management and corporate transformations, I am sometimes asked if I believe that democracy is the best political system to govern a country, given the current political situation where I am now based, Thailand. Before we dive straight into a simple answer, I’d like to propose a question that resides at the heart of this matter.
“What is the duty of a government?”
If we believe it is the duty of a government to both raise the standard of living of its citizens and to maintain a level of stability within its borders, I would like to propose two countries who use opposing methodologies in governance which have yielded impressive results for economic progress.
Singapore is a country that has seen unbelievable economic prosperity over the last 50 years. As a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic, its citizens have seen Singapore grow from a poor, racially-divided trading port, to one of the most stable, competitive, innovative, and free market economies in the world. It’s impressive that it’s being done in a largely democratic society, where its citizens are all granted voting rights, and carry a large number of civil liberties. Although some may argue that the government has very little opposition, it’s also true to say that every citizen can vote against the ruling government if they are unhappy with the government’s performance.
It is hard to talk about economic prosperity over the last 50 years where China is left out of the conversation. Its single-party system of government does not allow citizens the ability to elect its leaders and civil liberties are tightly managed, but since economic liberalization in 1978, China has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Its citizens have greatly benefitted (now with the world’s largest middle class), with its GDP growing at a pace second only to the United States, and even surpassing the USA in PPP.
Let’s take a look at an example that’s closer to home - the family unit. I think it’s fair to say that there is little difference in the success of children whose parents are more disciplinarian/dictatorial versus another family where the parents are more empathetic/democratic.
It’s my belief that the success of any organization, whether in business, government, or even a family, will rely on its ability to make decisions in one of two ways.
One methodology focuses on the ability to make large-scale cohesive decisions based upon mutual acceptance by all those in leadership positions. In a government context, those key persons are the Ministers of Parliament. In a business context, those key people consist of the management team. In the context of a family, we would point to the two parental figures. For simplicity’s sake, let’s refer to this as a democratic decision.
The second methodology refers to the ability for the leader to direct people from distinct groups towards a single unifying goal. Within the context of a country, we see a mobilization of people from all sectors towards accomplishing a common goal. Within a business context, this may look like a CEO who dictates a direction, and expects all to fall in line without questioning. Within the family context, this might look like the parents creating plans without buy-in from the children. To simplify this paradigm, this looks more like an authoritarian (dictatorial) system.
It’s most important for a body to have leadership that can make decisions and execute plans developed based on those decisions. More important than a specific political system, the people in the power must be ethical leaders, who place the interests of the common good (citizens, employees, or children), over their own self-interest. When this happens, it’s because of their benevolence and caretaker methodology that they gain the respect of those whom they oversee. Although China and Singapore have varying forms of government, it’s interesting to see that both countries employ systems where decisions are made by a small group of leaders at the top. With intense focus on economic growth and prosperity for its citizens, these two countries have taken different ideological paths to create success for its populations.
We’ve seen countless times throughout history that the most effective governments and businesses are those which are able to govern in a way that moves the organization in a focused, singular direction. As that direction is deemed incorrect, it’s always easier to make course corrections mid-way. However, if an organization is paralyzed because its constituents are seeking to move in multiple directions at the same time, we see very little progress.
Political systems are simply tools that governments will use to execute their agendas, and each will have its own pros and cons. I am neither for nor against a dictatorial or democratic system. As Dr. Ichak Adizes says, "the best form of management is 'democraship.'" The driving idea here is that the management/government consists of a group of top leaders representing diverse interests who work together to make democratic decisions but implement them in a dictatorial way. One important note here is that we must always have the ability to reevaluate the decision and re-implement if the results are not acceptable. In the end, we want to avoid having made decisions that are never executed.
In conclusion, it's most important there are ethical leaders positioned at the top who are unselfish in their governance, combined with the assurance that they have the power and authority to administer their plans. At the end of the day, it’s not money or power that change the world, leaders do, as leaders cannot lead if they have no followers.