Church Leadership

10 Leadership Lessons From My Time As a Caribbean Dictator

December 29, 2015

I tend to find myself in the strangest situations from time to time. One of the most unique was when I found myself as leader of the tiny Caribbean nation of Tropico thanks to my friend, Chester Pearce.

Tropico is not actually a real country. It’s the name of a city building video game, similar to SimCity. Thanks to Chester, I was able to experience what it was like building and governing my own country from the ground up… sort of. In this game, you are in charge of everything from designing the streets and buildings of your island to deciding the salary for each employee. You can even chose to fire individuals who you think are underachieving.

It’s truly a micro-managers dream game, but because I hate micro-managing, it was my nightmare. I had a rough time ruling (I ended up losing my country several times due to successful coup d’etat’s). I did have some successful experiences, though, and learned incredibly real and practical lessons because of them. Here are ten:

  1. Sustainability is the first hurdle you must face when leading. My first act in leading my country was to make sure I had some kind of sustainable industry on my island.  Whether it’s through farming, tourism, or trading, something has to keep your economy going. The same goes for whatever leadership situation your find yourself in. Be it a department, organization, or book club, ask yourself, “Is what we’re doing sustainable?” If it isn’t, look for ways to make it sustainable or shut it down if it doesn’t work.
  2. Leading change takes time. To successfully lead, you have to look at the long-term. Most scenarios in Tropico required you to lead your country for an average of 20 years. This is no problem since a year can fly by in about 5 minutes (even faster when you speed the game up like I did). In life, you won’t see changes right away. Sadly, you can’t fast forward time either. This is why you have to decide to invest the time necessary to see change through.
  3. An educated population goes a long way. One of the earliest tasks I turned to was building a high school. Without an educated population base, I really couldn’t hope to make my country a thriving one. Ask yourself, “How I handle information? Do I tend to hoard information to myself?” The more information and education everyone had available to them, the better my island was.
  4. You have factions to deal with. On my island, I had different groups with vested ideological interests and each one wanted me to make decisions that would benefit them. This is extremely difficult and almost impossible to juggle. In whatever context you find yourself, identify the loyalties and alliances that exist; simply identifying them will help you understand your organization much better.
  5. Force can only take you so far. In one of my tenures as leader of Tropico, I once cancelled elections and declared martial law to see what would happen… surprise, things didn’t go so well. You can only strong-arm people so long until they turn against you and decide to leave (or even worse, take arms and fight against your government). Being a loud, totalitarian bully only temporarily keeps the peace; it doesn’t make for a good leader.
  6. Even with perfect conditions, you can’t please everybody. At one point, I gave up and started using cheat codes because I couldn’t win. I literally had unlimited money, could construct buildings instantly instead of having to wait for them to be built like real life, and could even manipulate the game to make people happier. All of this godlike power and I STILL had rebel groups who tried to over throw me. Even if you give into demands and give everyone what they want, there will always be that one person who wishes ill on you.
  7. To lead effectively, you need good information flow. I don’t like rebels or my own generals taking arms and trying to attack my palace any more than other presidents. In my mind, whenever this happened I thought to myself, “What do you people you want? I’d be more than happy to help you with your problem if I only knew what you were asking.” If you are not given information and feedback, you can’t possibly improve.
  8. Be careful who you make treaties with. Not everyone that I had giving me information had my best interest in mind. Being the most powerful person on the island gave me a lot of “friends.” But many times, their loyalty was based on the benefit I could give them. It was hard knowing who I could trust. So it is in life.
  9. Take care of your leaders first. The generals defended my nation and were there to do the work of dealing with critics while I focused on doing other things that leading the country required. I realized that the first few loses came from uprisings within my government; they were internal rather than external attacks. I had to make sure that my leaders knew I had  their back and vice versa. However, I realized that even with ideal conditions, I still had some generals who hated me (see point 6).
  10. Failure makes you a better leader. After every defeat, I asked myself, “What went wrong?” and “How could I improve and avoid repeating the same mistake?” I learned that cheating doesn’t make the game easier. It actually makes you a worse leader because you experience artificial success. You can’t learn from failure unless you embrace and own up to your mistakes. Shout out to Steve Harvey, I learned so much from his Ms. Universe fiasco about integrity.

Now, with this post, I don’t mean to minimize the reality of actual tyranny out there in the world with this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway: being dictator was fun for a little bit, but it got old real quick. Still, the lessons that I learned were actually practical and helpful. Hopefully they’ll come in handy for you, too, the next time you are in a similar spot. Who says that video games aren’t helpful? Feel free to leave your thoughts below!