If you’re doing this, you’re not being an effective leader
When was the last time you pulled rank?
Every manager has done it on occasion - tells a team member to do something because, well, they’re the boss. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary, but done too often, it can indicate a failure of leadership.
It’s like when you were a kid and your parents told you to clean your room, eat your vegetables, or go to bed. “Why?” you asked. “Because I said so,” was their terse reply.
It was not a satisfactory answer, because you didn’t learn anything about why the requested task was a good idea. And, it paved the way for future battles with your parents.
Pulling rank, playing the “boss card,” or using authority to compel subordinates to do something is the same idea our parents used to use, and it often produces the same result.
When managers are too quick to use this approach, it usually means the manager has failed somewhere along the line. Failed to align, inspire or motivate their team. Failed to create a culture in which teams have the desire and ability to accomplish the mission.
Failed to be a leader.
The Myth of Authority
One of the key reasons the “boss card” doesn’t work in most instances is that authority is a myth. It’s a mistake to believe that you can force anyone to do what you say.
People understand more than ever that they have choices. When they’re told to do a task, they’re weighing their options and acting accordingly.
In the short term they may choose to do what they’re told, but it might be half-hearted. In the long term, they may find a different position that allows them to do what they want more often.
In today’s workforce, people don’t stay at the same company for 20-30 years. They move around, in part because they have choices.
I know what you’re thinking. “Those darn millennials!” Don’t fall into that trap; this is not exclusive to millennials.
Millennials might be the first generation to come of age during a time when people understand their choices, but they are not the only ones to act on it. People of all ages are choosing job mobility over mindlessly following direction.
What to do Instead
How do you avoid pulling rank and risking alienating your team? The answer is fairly simple, but it requires a consistent effort over time.
You have to take time to explain why. As a leader, you need to be intentional about explaining rationale to your teams. You need to understand what’s important to your people, and connect that to the work you’re asking them to do.
Another way of putting it is your people need to see a connection to the bigger picture. Specifically, they need to see a connection to:
The mission - Why is the work they’re doing important?
The organization - Do they feel proud to be part of the company?
People - How are they helping customers, coworkers, and even their boss?
If you, as a leader, can connect your people to one, two, or all three of the above, you can avoid relying on the boss card.
You do that by knowing your teams, what’s important to them, and what motivates them. Then, invest time is explaining your rationale, telling them why, and making the connection to the mission, organization, and people.
Over time, this approach will have tremendous benefits. Your teams will require less direction and will be able to predict what you would want, do and say in a given situation.
That makes your teams more efficient and gives you more time to focus on more important aspects of your job.
Scott Brown is a culture consultant, trainer and executive coach, and is owner of Stone House Management Consulting. He writes about workplace culture and effective leadership.