The Problem with Mandates

There have been more than 15,000 books written on the subject of leadership but, when you boil it down, leadership is about inspiring people to get things done.

Leadership author and speaker Kevin Kruse says that “leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”

As Kruse points out, there are three basic elements to leadership – influence, people, and a goal.

Great leaders know this.

Throughout history, their words have inspired movements.

Think about Martin Luther King, Jr. On August 28, 1963, in front of a gathered crowd of more than 200,000 people, he inspired a nation by his words.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

His words and actions motivated millions of people to act which ultimately led to The Civil Rights Act of 1964.  King understood the power of influence. He knew that to inspire people to action, he needed to paint a picture of the future.

A future where his “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

He knew that when people understand the “why” behind a movement, they would be motivated to act.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French writer, poet, and pioneering aviator, said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Great leaders inspire actionthey don’t force it.

Great leaders inspire action - they don’t force it. Click To Tweet

Many managers, on the other hand, rely on micromanagement to try and get things done. Instead of creating a vision, they “drum up people to collect wood and assign them tasks.”

And if people don’t comply, these bosses rely on threats, intimidation, and mandates to try and force people to act.

The problem with mandates is that they don’t work – they don’t inspire action.

They are the last resort for a manager who has failed to make a compelling case.

The problem with mandates is that they don’t work - they don’t inspire action. They are the last resort for a manager who has failed to make a compelling case. Click To Tweet

It’s like a frustrated parent who says, “I’m your father that’s why” or “If you don’t eat your dinner, you can’t go out and play.”

Instead of compliance, mandates create defiance.

When a boss fails to establish a vision of the future or properly explain the “why” behind their new rules, people are not moved to action. Most will push back.

It’s human nature not to follow someone if you don’t where they are headed.

It’s human nature not to follow someone if you don’t where they are headed. Click To Tweet

This week has been filled with news of mandates and consequences for non-compliance. I’m not an expert in politics or infectious diseases, but I know people. I know they don’t like being told what to do especially when they don’t see a clear vision of the future.

Will there be some compliance with these mandates? Sure. But I think there will be a lot more defiance.

This is not a political post, this is about leadership and you need to consider it as it relates to your own leadership story.

Are you inspiring people to action? Or, are you mandating compliance?

If you want to create a movement, you need to inspire people with a vision of the future that they all want to be in.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was probably the greatest example of a leader who embraced this idea. We could all learn a lot from his example.

If you are interested in learning more about how to inspire a workforce, check out my new book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner. 

[Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images]

The Biggest Untapped Resource in Your Organization

What if I told you that you could find all the answers to the problems facing your business inside the four walls of your organization?

Business consultants know this – and it’s the first place they go to figure out how to advise their clients.

It’s also the first place I go to when I first take over a business.

Sadly, it’s the last place most bosses go.

Most managers fail to recognize that their greatest assets are the older, experienced employees in their organization.

These are the employees that have been in the trenches for decades. They have seen managers come and go, and they have observed what works and what doesn’t.

They have strong ideas and opinions about the business, but almost no one asks them for their thoughts.

In a world that celebrates youth, these employees often remain a silent, untapped resource.

When I come into a new business, these are the people I seek out. I ask them three specific questions.

  1. What’s working well here?
  2. What needs to be changed?
  3. If you were in my shoes, what would be the first thing you would do?

I have found that the answers to these questions usually center around two or three critical things that I need to address. Taking action on those few issues helps me build credibility with experienced employees. They see that I listened and took action on their concerns.

Sadly, too many managers think they already have all the answers, so they ignore the most experienced people on their teams. This mistake typically leads to bad decisions and frustrated employees.

Ignoring experienced employees typically leads to bad decisions and frustration. Click To Tweet

I prefer to seek out more seasoned employees for their wisdom and experience.

Mark Twain once said that “Good judgment is the result of experience.”

I would add that good judgment is also the result of listening to your most experienced people.

Good judgment is the result of listening to your most experienced people. Click To Tweet

I recently had Dr. Mike Simpson on the Deep Leadership podcast. At 48 years old, he was still running missions in Afghanistan with U.S. Special Forces. Most of his peers were in their twenties.

Older operators in the special forces are known as Grey Beards, and they looked up to for their wisdom and experience. Younger soldiers know that there is something special about the advice from a Grey Beard.

Bohdi Sanders reminds us that “Old warriors did not get old by accident; they got old by being wise, having the right knowledge, and being tough.”

The question to you is – who are the Grey Beards in your organization?

How can you tap into their wisdom and knowledge?

If you’re are interested in learning how I turned around a manufacturing plant by tapping into the experienced workforce, pick up a copy of my bestselling leadership book, All in the Same Boat: Lead Your Organization Like a Nuclear Submariner.

[Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash]

Let Go and Let Others Grow

You’ve probably seen this yourself – a leader with a control problem.

Many bosses would rather die than let go of the control they have on their teams. It happens with even good leaders. Managers want to make sure things go well in their departments, so they keep a tight rein on everything.

As it turns out, this creates a huge problem.

It’s one of the main reasons many start-up companies fail to grow – the founder just can’t let go of control.

In a new company, it’s understandable. When a founder starts, funds, and builds a business from scratch, it’s their baby. They want to see it grow into a fully functional adult, so they carefully manage every detail. They work 60-80 hours a week to make sure everything is perfect.

The problem is that other employees in the organization become dependent on the leader and never grow – they never get challenged.

Contrast this with my experience as a naval officer.

On a U.S. Navy submarine, the captain is responsible for ensuring each crew member is fully qualified to do their job. The captain does this through pressure-testing – putting young officers and sailors in situations beyond their current capabilities.

The captain purposely gives up control to give people a chance to gain the necessary experience under pressure.

As a young junior officer, my commanding officer once put me in charge of preparing the USS Tennessee for sea for a short, highly visible VIP cruise. I had never performed this job before and, because of the VIPs, the stakes were higher than usual.

To add additional pressure, the captain wasn’t even on board at the time. He put me in charge and left the boat.

In a critical moment in my career, he let go and gave me a chance to grow as a leader.

That day was difficult and stressful, but I credit that experience towards helping me become a better, more seasoned naval officer. I tell the whole story in a chapter called “run your ship like a captain” in my new book, All in the Same Boat.

I was thinking about this issue last week.

I had a guest on my podcast, Neel Parekh, who built a local service business remotely.

As you know, I’ve always advocated for leaders to be present. So, I was curious to learn how Neel ran his business from the road. How did he manage all the things that needed to get done in a business remotely?

He said something that stuck out, “When I put a little bit more stress on the team – when I was less available – it helped them grow faster.”

When I was less available - it helped them grow faster - Neel Parekh Click To Tweet

He said something else that stood out, “people adjust.”

He explained that if the leader is always there and always helping, people rely on them too much. But if you say, you know what? You’re in charge. I’m going to disconnect for a little while – people will make the adjustments and fill in the gaps.

If the leader is always there and always helping, people rely on them too much. Click To Tweet

When they can’t ask the leader to help them, they figure it out.

They learn how to get things done on their own without the leader.  As it turns out, our teams are always more capable than we think.

As leaders, we don’t necessarily have to be there every day, running the show, directing every detail. It’s important to step away and allow people to rise up and take responsibility as well.

Is it hard to let go as a leader? Absolutely.

But when we do, it gives our teams a chance to step up and grow.

[Photo by Antonio Lainez on Unsplash]