When Is It Okay to Use Force as a Leader? Two Instances I Have Identified and My Personal Pact
There are rare instances when it is permissible, or even necessary, to use force as a leader. I believe we should make a pact with ourselves which identifies when it is acceptable to use force, so that anything outside of those perimeters is stifled and prevents outbursts. I am not talking about physical force, like Karate, rather raising our voices, or having aggressive rhetoric or body language. Let me share with you the pact I have made with myself.
I have identified two clear cases in which I will allow myself to use forceful language or an aggressive physical reaction:
To Counteract Physical Threats
In our clinics, we have had instances where the front desk receptionist felt physically threatened by certain people raising their voice and towering over her. We’ve even had an experience when a person threw water on her from the cup they were drinking from. It is important that a leadership staff protects the people they lead. Unfortunately in our experience, there have been instances in which we have had to protect our staff and even call the police.
In professional leadership settings, physical threats are uncommon. However, we must be prepared to act in these cases. Should a situation physically escalate, your people will be counting on you to stand up for them. Hopefully your reaction will not escalate the situation further, but put an end to the assault.
To Stop Abusive Behavior
A few months ago, I was traveling with my wife. I parked our car in a place I thought was permissible to park. All of a sudden a person who lives in the area stopped his car, rolled down his window, and proceeded to yell at me. He was very upset because apparently many people make the same mistake I did.
Should we find ourselves as a target of abuse, if we cannot walk away, we must communicate a strong “stop” in any way possible. This will most likely not change the person’s behavior long-term, but in most cases it will at least shut down the immediate abuse long enough for us to remove ourselves from the situation.
If anyone I lead demonstrates significantly unprofessional conduct and begins abusing me or someone else, I will forcefully and immediately ask them to stop.
Don’t Use Force as a Tool of Leadership
By deciding when I will I allow myself to use force, I have in essence decided when not to use it. Here is a point to remember: Don’t use force as a tool for leading people. What I mean is that using force to make people do what we want them to do is poor leadership, Sadly though, it is practiced by many leaders. They yell and intimidate others in hopes of getting results.
I remember the first time I accidentally stuck myself with a dirty needle as a young training medical student. I was assisting and observing an abdominal surgery. At the end, the patient’s small intestine was routed outside of the abdomen area where it would be attached to a pouch. The surgeon was known for being very abrasive. He moved away from the surgical table, took off his gloves, and said to me, “Suture the small bowel to the skin.”
I had done stitches before, but never an intestine. I was a bit perplexed, so I took a few seconds to decide what to do. As I thought about how I would perform the procedure without butchering it, the surgeon started raising his voice, “Are you going to take all day? Don’t you know how to suture?” Nervous, as I started, I stuck myself. This surgeon tried to get what he needed from me (and others) by using force. It’s a poor leadership tactic we must not employ. When people are not doing what we think they should, there is a reason. A good leader talks to people. He doesn’t push them around.
You may say, “But my people are being very defiant. They know what to do, and still they don’t do it. They are being lazy. That’s why they need someone to push them.” Not even then. People must be valued, even if they are intentionally sabotaging a process. Talk to them clearly, but with respect. You may even need to draw some boundaries and set expectations with consequences. Good leaders do all of that and more, without forceful intimidation. They even let people go with honor and respect. Don’t lead with force. That’s the way of immature leaders. Rather, know when you will allow yourself to use force in the rare instances that it is needed.