You can’t force a kid to eat. How could you force an adult to work?

The creation of the civil society is the victory of persuasion over force.” – Plato

We all know we can’t force a kid to eat. Or a cat for that matter. How come as managers we get ourselves to think that we can force our team to work? The paradox of nowadays business environment. Yes, it’s that easy actually.

Dictatorship is dead in many countries. Society had trouble holding any type of minority back. History proved that temporary setbacks will only give birth to a more passionate deep desire which will move masses forward towards a common goal. Movies show that to us daily. Songs try to have us listen. And books empower people by providing leadership role models. How come it’s still difficult for many entrepreneurs and managers to swallow the medicine and finally realize the obvious: there is no such thing as control by force and fear on the long run.

In pratice there are 50 Shades of Control-Freak

We all know the villain-manager in cartoons who doesn’t give a dime about anybody’s opinion and thinks he is the most qualified individual in the room. He is the one who uses fear of punishment as the main team motivator and whose main tool is force in order to execute his will.

In reality, things are different from cartoons and less obvious. You may be an unskilled manager who demotivates his team and doesn’t even know it. You may be a micromanager, a control-addict, a perfectionist to the core and the creativity killer of the organization. That doesn’t mean you need to be bad to the bone.

However if you catch yourself saying “my team will do it, they have no choice“, chances are you’re living in a bad soap opera. If you also say to yourself “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” it is obvious that you’re not playing the leading part either.

Which are you: a captain or a slave ship ruler?

The choice is simple and it only comes down to the tool you use to move people forward. Is it fear or is it passion? Do you get to your destination by control or do you drive your team through empowerment? That’s the difference in reality between a slave ship ruler and a captain. It has nothing to do with being mean. No Cruella De Vil there. Just an unskilled manager who is desperate to make this happen perfectly and who things this can happen only through his uptight control.

I will not go again into micromanagement and why it is bad for your leadership-health. Nor will I remind you that if you value opinions in your team, the fun fact is that your team will start being more creative, more innovative. I will however let you know once more that force is nothing but a shortcut. Persuasion is also a shortcut, although a more pleasant one, with longer effects. Empowerment is the longer deal. The deal that ensures you get where you should go and stay there longer.

Fear will move the strongest individual, but empowerment will take him a long way

  • Step 1: Hang your values on your door and the right people will let themselves in – In my view, as a leader you should be as open as possible. You should state your principles loud and clear. Write them on your front door if you can. Same goes for your vision, the passion that drives you, your mission. The principles you believe in and the vision you share are the ones that will help you attract the right people by your side.
  • Step 2: Empower people to give their best, be there to support them, give them feedback  Encourage people. Match their strengths with their roles. We all have our weaknesses, it is good to know about them, but this is not where the focus should be. Match the strong points with the roles in the team, encourage your team members, give them feedback on what can be done better.
  • Step 3: Just let your team amaze you  Put your team in the spotlight. Let them shine. And seat back. Prepare to be amazed.

I’d like to end my post with a reminder of Stephen Covey’s favorite trick: that of imagining his own funeral. In the chapter “Begin with the end in mind” from Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Covey challenges us to think about our own funeral and about what we would like the main people in our lives to say about us. Sounds cheesy, but it’s actually pretty powerful if you get to practice it. What I am always wondering when thinking about managers who use too often management by fear is if this is truly what they would like to be reminded like. Do they ever think “Oh boy, I wish they would say – Geeee, he was the toughest worst person I’ve ever worked with: he used to yell at me, be mean to me and made me cry my days out“?!

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