I am trying to say this in a nice way, but I’m just going to put it out there…no one likes to be told what to do. I know I’m a dog, and my leader mom is my alpha, and she regularly trains and gives me commands, but sometimes I just don’t like being told what to do. By now I know what makes my leader mom happy– walking beside her, letting go of something I shouldn’t have, etc. Or my favorites: stay, heel and down! But there are times when I know what I’m doing and she will give a command. And when I look at her as if to say, “I already know this,” she sternly repeats the command as though I didn’t hear her. So I decided to observe how some of my gal pals handle being told what to do.
First, there’s Eve. When we took her outside, she was halfway down the sidewalk when my mom said, “Eve, don’t pull.” Then there was Ellie, who was already at eye level before her leader mom told her not to jump! Allie’s been told not to kiss me so much but she never pays attention to that command. Khaki’s been told by her leader mom to stop barking when I pass her house. That never works so I have to go give her some attention. And, of course, there’s Snickers, who clearly doesn’t like me, no matter what her mom tells her!
My buddies are not much better. My pug buddy Samson will walk in whatever direction he wants to walk, and Mick—well, Mick actually does what he’s told. So six out of seven of my pals do not like being told what to do, which I believe proves my point.
But I decided to dig a bit deeper. I observed my leader mom as she read through several articles, such as Five Things Successful Entrepreneurs Do; 13 Things Your Stylist Won’t Tell You; What You Need To Do To Be a Strong Leader; Four things a Leader Does First Thing in the Morning, etc. Interestingly, I noticed my leader mom does NOT follow every single suggestion. In fact, by reading her body language I’d say she is overwhelmed by all the suggested ways to improve. It is clear to me that humans don’t like to be told what to do, yet often the first words you read or hear are, “Here’s what you need to do!” So I concluded my research and the findings are as follows: Humans like to give commands and opinions on how to do things better, but no one listens!
After all this work, I needed a break, so I danced and whined by the front the door to let mom know that now would be a good time for us to go for a walk—and she obliged. The sunset was beautiful so we strolled leisurely rather than walked at our usual brisk pace. In a flash, I saw a cat run past, and I immediately ran the other direction. SNAP! My mom called my name, snapped my collar and said, “STAY,” as she made me stand at attention beside her. Then a car went flying by, narrowly missing us both! My mom was expressing her thoughts a little more animated than usual while I was catching my breath. I could have died if my leader mom hadn’t told me exactly what to do right at that moment. Good thing she didn’t say, “Louie, I wonder if there is a better way to express your fear of cats?” I would have died while we had that nice little conversation.
Then it hit me! There are times when clear directions (commands, in my case) are needed; a time when the Socratic method is appropriate, and a time when simply listening is the most loving and effective method. Some leaders ONLY use the questioning method and it feels very manipulative because you know you have to do what they tell you or your job is in jeopardy. Others never offer the opportunity for team members to develop critical thinking skills, or the ability to explore other options, when they just tell you what to do.
I’ve experienced my leader mom’s ability to balance her leadership behaviors. She knows when to give direction and when to provide support and many times she balances the two nicely. She knows when to ask questions and when to listen. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s an avid student of Situational Leadership II). The most effective leaders are those who size up the situation and provide just the right amount of instruction and care. Leaders who only have one leadership style (which is often some form of control and manipulation), miss out on the very best their team is willing to give.
I think Henry Cloud said it best in his audiobook (yes, I listen as my leader mom gleans wisdom from her audiobooks). “Behavior changes occur when we are able to grapple with issues. When you provide context— by listening, sharing information and positive examples, setting expectations and consequences, creating a healthy emotional climate, and challenging them to do their best— they will figure it out and implement it. That is a lot better than just ‘telling them what to do.’”1 That takes time and discipline, and from my observation, some humans don’t have the discipline and won’t take the time for others.
Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that my leader mom knows best! I’ve come to love and trust her so my heart’s desire is to please her–not because she tells me what to do–but because I want to serve her. While no one likes to be told what to do, most of us love to give to those we care about. And the best form of caring is service!
1 Cloud, Henry (2013-04-16). Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge