When terrorist planes hit the twin towers on September 11, one man gained international attention and acclaim for his leadership. Struggling at a 36% in approval ratings for his rigid, dictatorial style of management, Rudy Giuliani was losing popularity fast prior to 9/11. Reacting in his typical control and command style of leadership during what was one of the most catastrophic crises in history; Giuliani’s approval rating soared to 79% among New York City voters. Time magazine named him its Person of the Year for 2001 and he was given an honorary knighthood by Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth II in 2002.*
How could a management style that lost Giuliani favour and elections garner him hero status after a tragic event? The answer is simple…
The ‘dictate’ style of ‘telling’ leadership (ie. Telling people what to do and how to do it) has a time and a place where it’s not only appropriate but absolutely necessary. Namely, during crises when people are shell shocked, immobilized and anxious. When creativity and uncertainty has no room. Where time is of essence. These are the hallmarks of the ‘telling’ style of leadership.
When is it ok to ‘tell’?
“Kelly didn’t know the first thing about what the job was about. She was also clueless about what was expected of her. She could hardly wait until the meeting with her boss to ask him.
When there’s a knowledge or skill gap, it is definitely appropriate for a manager to tell his staff what needs to be done, why and how.
Another instance where it’s ok to ‘tell’ is if legal and safety issues are involved and no room for interpretation exists.
Last but not least, when there’s a crisis or an urgent situation such as 9/11, there is no time to ask opinions on how to solve the problem or what to do next. Here, the onus is on the manager to tell the team what to do.
After all, have you ever heard of a heart surgeon operating on an emergency surgery asking his nurses what to do next? I wouldn’t want to be that patient either.
When is it ok to ‘ask’?
I call the ‘asking ‘style of management communicating because ultimately it’s a two way dialogue where ‘tell’ is really only one way and hence deserves the synonym of ‘dictate’.
“What are some things we can do to solve this Bob?” is a question many managers don’t understand the power of. The act of ‘asking’ instead of ‘telling’ under the right circumstances is a gift that a manager can give to develop her staff. It says “I trust you to have the solutions somewhere inside of you”. It uncovers the things their team has already done or thought of doing on their own.
The act of ‘asking’ can generate a multitude of possibilities that our own overworked brain could never in a million years have come up with.
‘Asking’ garners buy-in from your team since the solution comes from them. This takes the pressure off of you to always have the answer and frees you up since your team isn’t coming to you for all solutions anymore.
A story of ‘telling’
Once upon a time, I was on a team where there was a conflict between myself and another team member. I regret so much that there was never a single day where our team leader asked us how to resolve it. And so on it went, for many years and through many projects causing loss of engagement, productivity and suffering for all involved.
As you can see, there are appropriate times to both ‘communicate’ and to ‘dictate’ as a manager. The true test of enlightened leadership is to know when to do which and to do it well.
In the seminars that I do and the 20 years that I’ve spent working in corporations, 95% of the time, I run into ‘dictate’ managers simply because it’s what they’ve been paid all their lives to be—solution providers who come up with the answer.
So if you’ve been one of those managers, take a walk on the wild side and live in the ‘communicate’ world for just a day or even an hour. Let me show you how it’s done…stay tuned.
With kindness as always,