Tag Archives: initiative

Never do what you are told!

I tell everyone who works with, or for, me that they are never to do something because I told them to do it.  I do not want or expect anyone to do what I ask just because I told them to do it. Instead, I insist they do what they do because:

  • They understand what they are doing.
  • They know why it makes sense to do it.
  • They believe it is wise and right to do.
  • They want to do it.

The objective is to make them (as opposed to me!) accountable for what they do and to help them grow through the experience. Soon I will not have to ask them anymore because what I want done will be internalized and we can move on to the next stage of growth.

If I ever ask them to do something that they do not understand, agree with, or want to do then I beg them to tell me about it so that we can talk it through.

An approach that demands people to do something, but that does not take time to be sure those being told understand and agree with doing it, may seem more like what a CEO should do. It is not and this explains why:

  • When things do not go quite right it is too easy for the person to let themselves “off the hook” as they say, either out loud or to themselves, that: I only did it because the boss told me to. 
  • It is a human tendency to do what you are told to do by persons in positions of authority.  However, when you follow an order, you do not necessarily have to:
      1. Understand what is going on.
      2. Consider the goal and come up with alternative actions that move towards achieving it better, more efficiently, or faster.
      3. Decide on an action to take.

That is, following an order removes the obligation to know, think, or decide. You just do what you are told and assume, hope, or trust that someone smarter, or someone in a position of higher authority, has made a good decision.

The limit of this is that people do what you tell them to do and little or nothing else! A growing organization requires people to think for themselves, to generalize, and to apply broadly lessons learned.

  • The leader in a growing organization can be (and often is) the constraint to growth. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix: rather than telling subordinates what to do, the leader should spend the bulk of their time helping the next generation of leaders develop to the point where they operate independently; thereby freeing up the leader for strategic initiatives and actions that only they can perform.

CEOs who thrive on the heady sense of power that comes from knowing that their staff will do their bidding are consistently out-performed by those who do just the opposite and expect employees to think and act for themselves in pursuit of company performance and personal development.

See Also

Management Time: Whose got the monkey?

Introducing Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World as an interactive digital workbook.

Many intelliven.com blog posts are based on the slides and lecture notes from a masters class in Organization Development called Organization Analysis and Strategy offered at American University and taught by Peter DiGiammarino.  These posts and other material from class, including:

  • Work problems,
  • Templates,
  • Graphics,
  • Slide shows, and
  • Assessments

are available  from Amazon as a softcover workbook or from iTunes as an iBook titled Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World.

Selected intelliven.com blog content is now available as a workbook from Amazon or as an iBook from iTunes.

Whether one wants to change personal habits, implement a new information system, improve a business process, get team members to work together, increase a community’s appreciation for diversity, or even to topple a monarchy, taking seven actions driven by seven disarmingly simple truths will individually and collectively help achieve the goal.

Manage to Lead presents a framework to describe and assess any organization. It also provides a structured approach to plan and implement next steps for an organization as it strives for long-term growth and performance.

Readers are invited to select a familiar organization on which to apply the tools and templates introduced throughout the workbook. Exercises in each chapter produce essential elements for the organization’s annual strategic plan and lay the groundwork for implementing that plan.

Readers can package the key elements from Organization Exercises to form a strategic plan that communicates how the organization sees itself and where it is headed. At the end of the year leaders can compare actual results with what was described in the strategic plan to study what happened, why what happened was different than plan, what is to be learned from that, and what to do differently going forward as a result.

Repeat the process over several years and compare actual to planned results year-to-year to see the organization mature, perform, and grow to its full potential.

How to use the Change Framework to turn initiatives into action.

If the leader thinks s/he knows what needs to change and that everyone is aligned, ask: “How do you know your team knows what you want to do; why don’t we ask them just to verify? If they all say what you expect them to say, a positive step towards getting what you want done will have been taken just by bringing it to the center of their attention. If it turns out that some or all of the team are not as aligned as expected, then remedial steps can be taken.”

Survey the leader’s top team and ask them each:

  • To describe the current state, that is: how things are today.
  • What really good things happen if we change and what really bad things happen if we do not?
  • To describe how things would be in the future if their ideal changes were successfully implemented.
  • What needs to be done in order to get from where things are today to where things would ideally be next?
  • What will make it hard to do what needs to be done in order to get from today to the targeted next state?

Review results with the leader to bring him/her up to speed on the group’s data. Look for and discuss fully any points the leader finds confusing or surprising. Continue reading How to use the Change Framework to turn initiatives into action.

Four questions an organization needs to ask every performance period in order to perform, learn, and grow to its full potential.

It is impossible to control what you cannot, and what you do not, measure. For every important thing that the organization does, decide what is most important to monitor and then watch carefully to know how things are going.

If what to monitor is not known then:

  • Watch everything and whittle away what turns out to not be useful and keep watching what turns out to be useful.
  • Study similar organizations to learn what they track.
  • Look up industry analysts and market researchers to find out what they watch.

Continue reading Four questions an organization needs to ask every performance period in order to perform, learn, and grow to its full potential.