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Why 'because I said so' management is weak leadership

Written by Alex Cohen

It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when 58 percent of employees say they would sooner trust a stranger than their boss. Management is never cut-and-dry, but it’s important to recognise that, at its core, it’s about leadership (not power or perks).

Victor Lipman, author of The Type B Manager, draws on philosopher Albert Schweitzer’s wisdom when offering advice about effective leadership:

‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.’

With this in mind, let’s take a look at why ‘because I said so’ management is weak leadership.

It’s bad for company culture

According to a Quantum Workplace report on employee engagement, 60 percent of workers see things like engagement and wellbeing strategies as their manager’s responsibility.

That’s a fairly significant majority that believe culture development lies with their bosses, and it’s a statistic that points to one of the fundamental problems with hypocritical leadership. Employees will follow whatever example is set.

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Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of open-source IT giant Red Hat, summarises the relationship between executive behaviour and culture nicely:

‘Culture is learned behaviour. It’s not a by-product of operations…we create our organisational culture by the actions we take; not the other way around.’

If you’re a manager making rules for the office or attempting to affect change at your business, you’ve got to follow those rules and enact that change yourself. If you don’t, you’ll struggle to motivate anyone to do it for you.

It breeds resentment

The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to management doesn’t work. There’s a golden rule when it comes to delegation that addresses this directly: don’t ask your colleagues to do something that you would not be prepared to do. 

University-backed research shows that productivity and co-worker relationships improve when bosses are perceived as ‘fair’. It goes without saying that the opposite is also true.

Leadership roles have perks, but when they’re taken advantage of, the bottom line takes a significant hit. The resentment and stress caused by leaders that aren’t willing to put the same work in as their colleagues leads to higher employee turnover and a 46 percent increase in healthcare expenditure. That’s down to things like the elevated risk of heart disease that workplace stress has been shown to cause.

Setting a positive example and taking on a fair share of the workload means healthier, happier employees.

Lead from the front

Businesses benefit from leaders willing to go the extra mile to avoid hypocrisy and to build trust. As explained by Michael Schrage, an MIT researcher:

‘They [effective leaders] actively – not just verbally – communicate values the leader passionately and professionally believes important.’

Schrage points to examples like C-suite partners who come to work directly from long-haul flights, and manufacturing executives who learn another language to engage with Spanish-speaking employees.

The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach doesn’t work. Successful managers walk the walk, they don’t talk the talk.

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employee engagement , employee retention , Leadership , Management