“Authority — when abused through micromanagement, intimidation, or verbal or nonverbal threats — makes people shut down and productivity ceases.”John Stoker, U.S. businessman and communication expert.
How often have you heard a good idea get shot down by a response along the lines of, “There’s only one right way, and that’s my way”? And did it carry the hidden threat that if you didn’t like it, then “there’s the door”?
In our latest #MTtalk, we explored how to handle people who adopt a “my way or the highway” approach to management.
About This Week’s Chat
Many years ago, I worked for a “my way or the highway” boss. He ran a civil engineering consultancy, and his wife was the office manager.
I was the youngest person in the office by a good number of years. When I started there, I couldn’t believe how outdated some of their systems were.
One day, even though I was still new, I asked him whether we could change the electronic filing system. He was the only person who understood his system, and it was a nightmare for the rest of us to find files and folders.
I suspected that he might not like such a suggestion, but I wasn’t prepared for his extreme reaction. His face turned red and he bellowed that he’d never heard such “nonsense” in his life. His system was perfectly logical, according to him.
Behind him, his wife appeared in the doorway with wide eyes. “But, Mr Peters…” I started. He turned an even deeper purplish-red and stomped away down the corridor.
A Deer in the Headlights
I must have had the classic “deer caught in the headlights” look. Mrs Peters apologized for his behavior, and told me that she’d tried to change the system for years – but he would have none of it. You either did things his way, or you were welcome to leave, and that included his wife!
While I worked there, I became increasingly nervous about every single thing I did. I couldn’t use my initiative, and it felt as if I wasn’t allowed to use my brain.
After work, I was as stressed as I was at the office. My fear of Mr Peters had become a scary “ghoul” that loomed behind me all the time.
Unlike the unfortunate Mrs Peters, I wasn’t married to the immovable boss, so I left just three months later. When I walked out on my last day, it felt like I had escaped from captivity.
Management by Fear and Intimidation
A manager with a “my way or the highway” approach usually resorts to using fear and/or intimidation to get their own way.
It almost beggars belief that this management style (if you can call it that) still exists in a world where we’ve made so much progress on so many fronts. Unfortunately, it’s still all too common. Worse, it even works sometimes!
People who work for a manager like this might be compliant on the surface and obey the rules. But they’re not likely to give everything they can at work. They won’t be fully engaged, and they won’t offer creative solutions to problems. Why put yourself at risk of a tongue-lashing if it’s easier to do what you’re told and fly under the radar?
Consequences of My Way or the Highway
It’s hard to determine what a “Mr Peters” can cost a company. The loss of creative thinking and innovation can’t be quantified. You don’t know what ideas people might conceive, and how they might have contributed to the company’s bottom line.
Productivity is also under fire: people will only do what they have to, and nothing more.
Customer service suffers because employees sometimes treat customers the way their boss treats them. Also, why would you stay in an oppressive environment? You wouldn’t, which means that good employees will leave, because talent is always in demand.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are exceptions when there’s only one right way to do something. For example, health and safety rules are rarely negotiable, and should be adhered to as much as possible.
Sometimes, when there’s a crisis or emergency, there might really be only one right way to do something, and that’s the way that will benefit most people in a situation. A rebel who wants to follow his own mind might endanger everybody’s well-being.
My Way or the Highway – Our #MTtalk
In our #MTtalk on Twitter last week, we explored the perils of “my way or the highway.” We looked at how you can disagree with someone who adopts this mentality, and how to avoid falling into the trap of using it yourself.
Here are the questions we asked, and a selection of the many responses that were offered:
Q1. What do you understand the “my way or the highway” approach to be?
@MarkC_Avgi This approach is often used by people with minds closed to alternative methods of accomplishing a task; they want things done their way, and will not listen to anyone else’s views, regardless of how good or valid they may be.
Q2. Have you ever used the “my way or the highway” approach? What happened? Is it always an ultimatum?
@Singh_Vandana I’ve never used it at the workplace. Have seen managers use it. The result is obvious that people comply because of fear, due to power of position. This certainly impacts the morale.
@MicheleDD_MT After repeated attempts to turn around a direct report’s behavior, I had to lay out clear consequences, if change did not take place.
Q3. Is an ultimatum a choice? Why or why not?
@KatieDuckworth An ultimatum doesn’t sound like much of choice, but it is actually. The consequence of non-compliance might be stark but you still have a choice. Not that I’m condoning this kind of management talk, it’s not massively empowering.
@GThakore It is a bad choice! However, an ultimatum can work in the few situations when all hands and minds are working together towards a goal.
Q4. Have you worked for a manager who used this approach? What effect did it have on the team?
@AdventureGlass A lot of high school admin works this way. I also worked for a nightclub owner who used this approach – WOW – hated it!
@PG_pmp People are not productive, have low morale, and they know whatever they bring to the table will not be valued.
Q5. When are people more likely to resort to this type of approach?
@Ratna_Gill I think when they feel threatened or undermined by others on their team, and feel as though their authority or know-how are being threatened. I think it’s important to acknowledge their expertise but still assert one’s own idea.
Q6. How do advocating strongly for what you want and an ultimatum differ?
@MarkC_Avgi Advocating strongly involves explanation of why what is being done is “my way”, whereas an ultimatum doesn’t usually involve any further discussion.
@lg217 An ultimatum is more forceful and threatening in my opinion, where as advocating strongly is more like trying hard to get your point across but in a non-threatening way.
Q7. In what ways might you deliver a message without it coming across as an ultimatum?
@Yolande_MT It might be an option to say something like, “There isn’t much room for manoeuvring here, so it’s probably best we stick to this plan/method/decision.” Also, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
@vrajshahspeaks Deliver your message in a gentle and respectful way. Allow them to share their doubts, listen carefully, and react with proper things. If you have results and proofs then present them and approach them to review it and to trust you.
Q8. How can you let a “my way or the highway” manager know that you don’t agree with them?
@harrisonia Before letting that manager know, I would have to assess our current communication level and type, and would address the issue directly and in their office. I’d offer my rationale and some possible alternatives to their ultimatum.
@MicheleDD_MT If you have built trust with the manager, provide feedback … find the right time to deliver it. Sometimes the manager doesn’t know how their behavior affects others.
Q9. When might an ultimatum be beneficial?
@Ganesh_Sabari When the leader is knowledgeable, astute and magnanimous.
@Midgie_MT When disciplinary action is required after repeatedly providing feedback to take corrective action.
Q10.How can you remain aware of your approach, and what approach do you think will be more productive?
@Yolande_MT Know your triggers, navigate your emotions and regulate your behavior. Be nice, kind and respectful without being a pushover.
@Singh_Vandana Seeking feedback, having honest conversations always shows us the mirror. Affiliative, transformative, collaborative are few approaches, depending on the personal leadership style, to be more productive.
Many thanks to everyone who contributed to our discussion! To read all the tweets, see the Wakelet collection of this chat, here.
Some people try and make an impression by using a forceful approach. Others inspire us by simply being who they are, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in our next #MTtalk chat.
In this week’s Twitter poll we’d like to know what behavior or characteristic you’ve seen in another person that has inspired you? Please cast your vote, here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to the topic we discussed:
Note: Club and Premium Club members can enjoy instant access to these resources. Nonmembers may find that access to some of them is restricted.