Often when I give a talk on group alchemy an audience member asks a question that goes something like: “Aren’t the problems you described, such as coming late to meetings or not following through on commitments really a problem of leadership? If the leader ‘lays down the law’ and makes it clear that either you do x or face the consequences, then you won’t have those problems.”
When I hear that I’m very aware of the mindset behind it that places the “leader” at the top and in charge of getting people to do what she or he thinks is best.
This is the traditional command-and-control version of management and most versions of leadership today. In this logic, when the “leader” creates the rules and severe consequences for not following them, most people will go along. They comply.
This is really more a form of rulership than leadership. Carrot and stick incentives driven from the top express very little respect and confidence in the people being “led.” The boss becomes the cop. You get adherence to the rule but at what cost? Enthusiasm, creativity and the initiative to go the extra mile disappear.
Compliance Versus Commitment
Compliance is a defensive act. When people are subjected to rulership, most will seek to reassert their personal power. That may happen in ways that are not beneficial to the group and your results. Some will go into open resistance, some will find the cracks and exploit them, and others will withhold contributions.
This can look like “OK, I’ll be at your meeting on time. And I’ll bring my report to work on (or patient files to update, or papers to grade). I don’t have to give you my full attention.”
When the focus is on getting people to obey rules, no one is addressing the underlying issues. Why doesn’t every member of the group think it’s important to be at the meeting on time and engaged? Are our meetings not worthwhile? Is there a deeper issue within the group? How has the culture in the group developed to allow for such unilateral actions?
Seeking compliance – “be on time or else” – misses the fact that what’s needed is commitment. Commitment is the source of the engagement and dedication that form the will to perform and create extraordinary results together.
What to do?
Real leadership is a group effort, based on commitment. This is what I call shared leadership or collaborative leadership and is what creates the possible.
In order to move towards leadership, look at where you feel you have to “lay down the law” to get people to do what you need. This is a symptom of no commitment.
Then you can lead the conversation in the group that’s needed to identify what’s in the way of everyone making a full commitment to your agreements. When you work through that, everyone becomes accountable to the group and can contribute to leadership.
As a leader, the more you feel that you have to “lay down the law,” the more important and urgent this conversation is. It’s your role to create an environment where everyone is heard and all issues are resolved, even when it might appear difficult. It’s only through this process that true success can emerge.
What would your business or organization be able to create if everyone is in full communication and totally committed to a set of principles and agreements for doing what works?