Is This Dilbert Really True?


TScreen Shot 2014-09-26 at 5.48.59 AMhursday's Dilbert (see the strip) starts with the “Pointy Haired Boss” asking Dilbert for his opinion on something.

Dilbert responds with “studies show that if you ask for my opinion, I will no longer perceive you as a leader.”

The cartoon isn't footnoted and a bit of Google searching doesn't pull up “studies.” Maybe I'm doing Google wrong. Maybe you can help find a study about this. I'm not sure what Scott Adams is citing here.

But do you really think this is true? I think a good leader DOES ask his or her employees what they think. Weak leaders are afraid of hearing input from employees or others.

Leaders shouldn't live in a vacuum or a bubble and they shouldn't be making top-down pronouncements. Asking employees what they think and getting their input doesn't turn the workplace into a democracy.

Maybe the “no longer perceive you as a leader” dynamic is true in organizations that have been top-down, command and control environments? If so, does it really harm the organization or its performance if they're no longer perceived as a “leader?”

Studies show that cartoons aren't always correct?

Would you view YOUR manager or CEO negatively if they asked for your opinion? Are there circumstances where this might be true? I'm having trouble seeing it.

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  1. George says

    I agree that a good leader asks questions. I think a leader who doesn’t demonstrates weakness. I’m also not aware of studies that indicate that asking questions is a negative leadership behavior.

    That said, I think it depends on followers’ expectations. If they are accustomed to being told what to do, and they perceive that leaders should lead from the front, then it’s possible that they would see it as a weakness. It is probably a good idea for any leader to set the followers’ expectations up front so that this isn’t an issue. Additionally, if a leader typically directs and “has the answers” but only occasionally asks questions, he/she could also signal weakness. So, consistency, once the expectation is also important…for either approach.

  2. Kris Hallan says

    I can see how a study COULD show this (don’t know if any have). For a company like Dilbert’s, sudies probably would show that asking for others opinions would show weakness. In a dog eat dog culture where everyone is being ranked against each other as individuals, asking for help and opinions is a sign of weakness. Why do you think it is so hard and so rare for leaders to demonstrate humility? I don’t think that it is a random correlation that most of our leaders struggle to demonstrate humility. They have been trained to act that way.

    In a way, weak leaders is actually the goal. Leaders should have less power. This is a short term versus long term planning problem. From a strictly power and control perspective, the short term affect of asking for others opinions will have two affects.
    1) It will elevate that persons perception of their own power.
    2) It will lower that persons perception of your power.
    In the long term this is a positive for the company because individual power actually has negative effects on overall performance. The goal of lean thinking is to develop “servant” leaders. We want to flatten the organization and encourage autonomy. In the end, servant leaders will actually acquire significantly more respect and influence. By never wielding their power, they will acquire more of it. It is another one of those great lean paradoxes.

  3. Geoff Schaadt says

    I think that’s the joke. Adams is simply using Dilbert – as usual – to mock the LEADERS with their own perceptions.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Seems like he would have the PHB saying it then… Dilbert is supposed to be the educated voice of reason and if he says “Studies show…” I’d think Adams is saying that’s real. I dunno.

  4. Andy Wagner says

    I suspect Dilbert is making this finding up to play on the insecurity of a pointed hair boss with insufficient domain expertise.

    I agree completely that good bosses ask good questions!

    (Nobody ever called Dilbert’s a good one!)

    1. Mark Graban says

      Ah, Dilbert saying “studies say” is a bluff that the PHB won’t think through?

  5. Ernesto says

    I love both Dilbert strips and your posts. Aren’t you taking too seriously a cartoon? It’s only a joke.
    Scott Adams is brilliant, but he’s not a business guru. He’s just trying to make us laugh, and he certainly is achieving that for years.
    I understand the importance of asking ideas to the people who does the work in a Lean environment. Perhaps if it said “manager” instead “leader”, we weren’t so afraid of Lean principles being mocked.
    But again, relax, this is a joke. There’s no human belief (religious, philosophic, scientific, etc.) which hasn’t been scorned in time.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks. I didn’t think he was mocking any Lean principle… the cartoon was just a bit confusing, especially when I believe strongly that leaders should seek out their employees’ ideas and opinions.

  6. Dale Savage says

    I love Dilbert because I do see so much of what he mocks in some of our associates. I also think that Dilbert is trying to make the PHB feel insecure and maybe he is trying to keep him from bothering him with stupid questions by making him feel like he is doing a poor job by asking them.

    However, leaders asking questions have caused some issues in our company because of the attitudes of some of our workers. They don’t want to cooperate so they simply say, “You’re the boss you’re supposed to know these things.” They simply think that the managers should know what is going on everywhere in the company. When I facilitate kaizen events and point out that we rely on them to let us know what the problems are, they sometimes seem shocked.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Ah… maybe Dilbert didn’t want the boss asking for his opinion because:

      1) He hates talking to the PHB
      2) He doesn’t think the PHB would actually listen to his opinion

  7. Randy Siever says

    I feel like you could replace “studies show” with “someone once told me” in many cases. No one can really defend it, but people seem to accept those things as true too often, and pretty soon it becomes part of popular culture. I’ve definitely been told, “Someone seeking advice from you is a sign of weakness”. Was also the last advice I took from that person.

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