May 24, 2012

Weak Leaders Use Force

Uh oh – did the boss see us?

Weak leaders use brute force to get the right behaviors.  Strong leaders use transparency and accountability.

An example is Internet policy in the workplace.  Some people take advantage of an open Internet policy and spend too much time on sites like Facebook or Gmail.  Many managers respond to the problem by shutting off access to these sites.

That’s treating the symptom instead of treating the root problem. It’s not only ineffective but it teaches your people bad habits and kills trust.

I had this problem a few years ago at VietnamWorks.  Some people were spending hours each day on websites completely unrelated to work.

Now, I don’t care if people check their personal email or read a news story from time to time.  In fact, it’s healthy to take short breaks occasionally.  It helps recharge your batteries.   But hundreds of page views a day is ridiculous.

I knew that excess usage of Gmail and Facebook wasn’t caused by freedom of Internet access.  It was caused by poor discipline and lax management.

I decided to attack the root of the problem instead of the symptom.

Our tech team tracked abusive usage and created a report showing the top 10 abusers each week, tabulated by group.  Then I sent the report to my direct reports, the directors.  I gave them a clear message:

“Your team’s bad behavior is your bad behavior.  Fix it.”

They did.  Internet abuse plummeted before the month was out.

Using force and limiting freedom treats your people like children.  It tells them that you don’t expect them to be responsible.  When you don’t expect them to be responsible, they aren’t responsible.  They will behave like children.

Giving people freedom and holding them accountable for their actions is the harder way to get results.  It’s also the more effective form of leadership because it teaches your managers and their teams maturity and responsibility. When you expect responsible adult behavior and you treat people with respect you usually get it.

Be careful to respect the chain of command and never speak about the problem directly to your managers’ people, though, or you will destroy your managers’ feeling of accountability.

Which kind of leader are you?