Cam Hashemi

Democracy vs Autocracy

A group makes countless decisions over its lifetime. Each decision falls on a spectrum from democratic to autocratic.

Some decisions can be supremely autocratic, and others can be purely democratic. Between these two extremes, there are various shades which include more or less consensus.

As much as a dictator can be popular, a democracy can be tyrannical. Democracy is not inherently good as autocracy is not inherently bad. The success of each style depends on their execution within a context.

The Context


Autocracy has the advantage of efficiency. A capable dictator with the right goals can achieve them quickly. A plan of action from a single mind has consistency. Consistent, planned actions are more likely to succeed.

But autocracy also has the disadvantage of efficiency. An incompetent dictator lacks the input needed to choose the right goals, and they lack the feedback needed to correct themselves. So an incompetent dictator achieves the wrong goals quicker than they should and takes longer to see their mistake.


Democracy has the advantage of information. A healthy democracy gets input from every member of the group. People are encouraged to voice their perspective. Leaders who fail to resonate are ignored.

But democracy also has the disadvantage of information. Noise drowns the truth. Too many perspectives creates a paradox of choice. Too many choices leads to paralysis, sacrifices, bitterness.

The Paradox

Ironically, the success of a democracy depends on its leaders' ability to influence the majority. Without leaders, a democracy is chaos. A democracy without leaders is confused and uninspired.

And ironically, the success of an autocracy depends on its populace’s ability to influence their leader. Without a populace, an autocracy is nothing. An autocracy without a populace is clueless and unengaged.

The Balance

With democracy on one side and autocracy on the other, we can balance our scale gracefully across contexts.

Democracy creates input, feed-back, energy. Autocracy creates output, feed-forward, solidity.

In the beginning of a project, democracy collects voices and inspires the group. After the group has been heard, autocracy creates an achievable plan for the group. Given the plan, the group needs to execute it, and decision-making must be distributed again. After execution, autocracy needs to organize the new information and prepare the group for a new beginning.

Rather than biasing ourselves and our teams towards one style or another, we can understand how and when to apply each, with grace.