In my ideal world, I could order people around, period. I wouldn’t be mean. I’d just tell them what had to get done. And they wouldn’t take offense.
Back to reality. Managers have egos and don’t like a bossy boss. My people prefer it when I ask for their input, drop hints of what I think works best and express my commands as suggestions.
Your ideas, please
It may take an extra few minutes, but before giving directions I solicit an employee’s opinion about the task at hand. I listen and try to ask a follow-up question to prove it.
Then I can tie what they’ve said to what I need done. And they figure it was their idea, not mine.
I make sure never to dismiss their opinions. I recall what a friend told me about low back pain: No one knows what causes it most of the time.
“The doctor will say it’s a muscle strain,” he said. “The surgeon will say it’s a disc. The chiropractor will tell you it’s misalignment. The shrink will insist it’s all in your head.”
By letting my managers diagnose a problem, I can acknowledge what they say and then announce my action plan. I get more buy-in, they feel good for having participated and sometimes I learn something from the exchange.
Another way I get people to do what I want is to indulge their self-image. I want them to hear my orders not as the words of an aloof general but as fatherly guidance from a guy who cares about them.
I remember whenever a manager reveals tidbits about his personal life. I use this information later when I need his help.
Last week, my marketing VP said in passing, “My dad was from County Cork. Irish blood runs deep in my veins, and I love to laugh.” So when I wanted him to review a draft of my speech to make sure it was funny enough, I didn’t just say, “Look this over and make sure it’s not too dry.” Instead, I said, “Use that Irish blood you told me about to look over my speech and make sure it’s a little funny.”
Remember the reason!
Employees want to feel like insiders, like they’re in the loop. If I just barked out orders it would hurt their pride. They’d feel like pawns.
In each of my jobs, I’ve made a habit of suggesting what I want someone to do—and then adding why. That one extra sentence accomplishes so much.
I might say, “I need you to meet with our suppliers to discuss pricing. The reason is they’ve raised their rates 20 percent each of the last three years, and I want a better deal.”
When you explain the reason behind your request, you turn an order-taker into a collaborator. This builds trust and increases your chances that the job will be done right. It may take longer than blurting out what you want done, but at least you can walk away knowing that your employee understands what needs doing and why it matters.
Each month, “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25- year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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