During the course of our coaching work, one Chief Operating Officer client told me: “I need to tell them what to do and how to do it, or the ball will stop rolling.”
Guess what? She’s exhausted, hasn’t taken a vacation in documentable history, and her people are frustrated. “Why doesn’t she just do my job for me? She’s practically doing that already…”
She’s not alone. Directive managers mistake parenting for good leadership. They believe the best way to get things done is by directing people: telling them what to do, what not to do, or simply issuing commands.
Whether they are new to management or believe in a strict, command and control style, they fail to realize the high cost—to themselves and to others—of their own behavior – namely that it shuts good people up, and shuts them down, making them unnecessarily slavish and dependent.
Okay, but aren’t there times when people just need to be told what to do? Yes, of course, but directive managers misjudge this over 80% of the time. They’re always surprised to learn something good delegators know already: people are most effective when they feel respected by being asked to find their own answers, and supported to help them remove obstacles themselves.
Experience can teach directive managers how to avoid the pitfalls of their own directive behavior -- if they are open to learning. They need to address their lower-performing beliefs, including these categories:
- Chronic and unnecessary time urgency
- Procrastination followed by urgency (the last minute manager)
- Chronic and unnecessarily dim view of their people’s smarts or capabilities
- Misunderstanding about their role as a leader, or their people’s role
- Using a parent-to-child model of leadership, versus adult-to-adult
In the short term, when they juggle, push, pull, and prod well enough to get the job done, the directive manager may get rewarded. This confirms their belief about the effectiveness of their approach. But the cost is very high. Directive management is toxic for the leader, and those that work for them. Over the long haul the best people—the ones who ARE capable and motivated—will leave because they feel suffocated.
Beliefs and feelings lead to actions, and actions lead to results. The most effective change happens by starting with changing beliefs. That requires self-reflection, the help of those we trust to hold up a mirror to us, and most of all some readiness and courage to be a leader willing to learn. With effort and practice, such change is going to happen—it’s something I’ve experienced in my work.