Years ago I worked for a summer in the maintenance department of my high school. One day I came to work, and my supervisor asked me if I’d ever operated a floor sanding machine – you know, the thing that looks like a giant vacuum cleaner. I had never even seen one, so I responded, “Sure!”
“Good,” he said. “Every two years we have to strip the gymnasium floor and refinish it. This is the year, today’s the day, and you’re the guy who’s gonna strip it.”
He dispatched me to the gym and let me know he’d be by later to check on my work.
I approached the machine with the chutzpah and gumption of a typical seventeen year old. How hard could this be? I plugged it in and turned it on.
Instantly the bottom of the sander began revolving at high speed, and the machine began gyrating about the floor, seemingly with some evil plan. Instinctively I grabbed the handles harder and began pushing down to control the machine. BIG mistake.
The harder I tried to control the machine, the more it dragged me around the floor and gouged the hardwood.
Panicking, I quickly tried to locate the OFF switch. I couldn’t find it.
Finally, the machine moved near the electrical outlet to which it was attached. With a desperate lunge I managed to yank the plug from the outlet and stop the monster. With dismay I realized that several square feet of the floor were close to ruin.
After sheepishly bringing my boss to the scene of the crime, I was given a lesson in floor sanding. Turns out a very light touch, and an almost Zen-like mental state made operating the machine easy. It doesn’t respond positively to being “controlled,” but it shines when it’s allowed to do it’s job, and the operator merely guides it along.
Many years later, I realized I’d been given a good metaphor for managing people.
Turns out, even though they are (obviously) NOT machines, they respond pretty much the same way to their “operator” – their supervisor. Push down hard, and try to control everything, and they’ll take you all over the floor. And not in a good way!
“Leadership,” Dwight Eisenhower once said, “is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
When you boil it right down, we all do what we do for one of two reasons:
- We have to.
- We want to.
You’re the new manager. You’re going to be making plans, setting priorities, making decisions, and assigning projects to your staff. They will complete these projects (the “things you want done”) because:
- They have to.
- They want to.
You have two choices to get people to do what you want done.
You can instill fear or you can foster desire.
It’s really that simple. Both strategies work, but I would argue that only one delivers consistent, positive, amazing results. Get people to do things because they want to, and you’re going to be impressed with the results.
Years ago, the prevailing belief about managers was that they were people who could say (and get away with it) things like:
- “It’s my way or the highway.”
- “We don’t pay you to think. We pay you to perform.”
- “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
I’d like to say these days are long over, but sadly, they are not. There are plenty of bosses who “rule by fear.” Their power comes from the position they’ve been given in the organization. They want to control everything. They have been given the power to deliver unpleasant consequences to employees who don’t do their bidding. They get people to do things because those people are afraid of what will happen if they don’t do those things.
They get away with it when people fear:
- Losing their jobs,
- Their status or reputation in the organization, or even just
- Their ability to get good assignments.
Unlike the floor sander, people will do things they don’t want to do if their fear is strong enough. But will they give it their all?
Times have changed. Most managers recognize how vital it is to involve their employees in decision-making, choice of assignments and the like. Many organizations have embraced a new model for managers– the commitment model.
When people are committed to something, they invest more of themselves. Commitment means “devotion to a cause, person, or relationship.” When your people are committed to their assignment, you’ll get:
- Solid effort
Your challenge, when you embrace a commitment-based model of leadership, is to create an environment where commitment is the “path of least resistance.” Put another way, you need to create an environment where the easiest, most compelling choice is commitment.
Or, as Dr. W. Edward Deming once put it in his famous list of 14 factors for good management, your task is to “Drive fear out” of the organization.
I believe there are four things you can do to foster an environment of commitment:
- Develop a compelling vision for your team.
- Learn to communicate that vision and mission clearly and simply.
- Become a monomaniac regarding that vision.
(Huh? Monomaniac? It simply means having an obsessive interest in a single thing – in this case, achieving the vision. Talk about it relentlessly. Make sure that everyone knows the part they play, and each assignment plays in the achievement of the vision. Bring everything back to the vision.
- Build trust. To do that, you should:
- Be accountable to meet the standards you set for others.
- Be honest.
- Be ethical.
- Walk your talk.
- Be consistent.
- Be accessible.
- Keep things shared in confidence confidential!
This post is Chapter One of my new book, What Your Boss Never Told You – The Quick Start Guide for New Managers. To order your own paperback version with all 21 chapters for just $12.95, click this link.