When People Don’t Do What You Ask Examining Their Maturity and Your Authority
You ask someone to begin doing something differently. You ask them nicely. You explain it clearly. And maybe the change happens once, and that’s it. They simply refuse to continue doing what you’ve asked. They don’t refuse outright, but clearly they are trying to get out of doing what you’ve asked them.
How should you respond? This is how I handle these situations.
As with most issues, our approach begins in our thoughts. And in this case, we must first acknowledge that this is not an uncommon occurrence, especially if we work with younger people. As leaders, we should think of our people as our family and our partners, not as our workers. With that in mind, here are a few principles that have worked for me.
Another person’s maturity is not my responsibility.
A mature person does what is needed without being asked because they naturally know the right thing to do. It has become an internal value for them. Some do the right thing after being asked only once, and that is acceptable. But some have to be reminded repeatedly. And unfortunately, a few have to be pushed or even forced.
Think about a seven year-old child. You may have to take away their allowance if they don’t help out at home. But by the age of seventeen, if they have matured, they will help without being asked. They do it because it’s the right thing to do.
“If she doesn’t do what I’ve asked, I’ll just write her up.” This threat is an stance many managers take as a way to lead. But threats are not good for the team, the person in question, or the leader. Threats lower the relationship to unhealthy, even decadent, levels.
I have learned that maturity is a slow process. It is very hard to move people forward. They must want to learn and grow. And that takes time. It is not our responsibility as leaders to do that for them.
Early in my journey, I would get upset, and think of ways to force people into action. I don’t do that anymore. I prefer to honor people and treat them as partners. Adults don’t want to be treated as children. Nor is it right to treat them that way, regardless of their actions. If someone refuses to do something I’ve asked, I change my plan. If I don’t want to change my plan, I change their position. If I cannot do either, I endeavor to change them. I always talk to them first and make myself clear. I try to help them grow. But I won’t do it for long.
Don’t give orders that will not be obeyed.
General Douglas MacArthur said it. As leaders, if we let power go to our heads, we begin spewing out orders without thought to whether they will be heeded. Many managers engage in these kinds of battles with their people because they want to prove to themselves and others they have absolute power.
I have grown from this. I acknowledge I don’t have absolute power. I work with people who choose to be with me.
Protect your authority.
If you know anything about me, you already know I don’t believe in leading from a position of authority. I don’t deny my natural authority by way of my position. I just don’t choose to wield it as a weapon in order to get my way. But make no mistake, our positions of authority, and the positions of those in leadership within our organization, must be protected. Otherwise, there will be chaos.
Even though I do not give orders, nor do I force my way with people who do not do what is asked, I am clear that there cannot be overt insubordination. There are rules and boundaries that must be honored in any team or organization. And all people, including the leaders, should be respected.
Next Step: If you get upset when people don’t do what is needed, try to change the way you think about it. Communicate well. Change the culture, the request, the position, or the person. Making a big fuss about it will only cause you stress, waste your time, and erode the culture. The temporary result is not worth the cost to you and the team. And rarely helps the person at the center of the issue.
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