If you want capable teams, don’t boss them around

If you want a capable team, don’t boss them around. This may come as a shock to some “managers” who believe that their function as “managers” is to tell their subjects precisely what to do and how to do it. That isn’t managing a team, that is bossing people around. There is a big difference.

Every time I think about this bossy “management” style, I think about that Princess Leia quote in Star Wars:

I wrote before about the benefits of not treating your team like they are children and this theme is a gift that keeps on giving. What bosses seem to be ignorant of are the effects of being bossy and overly prescriptive when directing their teams. It is stressful being on the receiving end of that and the more layers of bossiness you add to the mix, the waves of stress become utterly counter-productive; almost enough to stop fusion in a star.

HubSpot has yet another great post, titled “The Psychology of Teams: 9 Lessons on How Happy, Efficient Teams Really Work” which is a must-read for managers and their teams, alike. One of the key factors of an effective team, for me at any rate, is a healthy degree of freedom and responsibility. HubSpot quoted Dennis Bakke’s book, The Decision Maker, on what this freedom and responsibility means in the context of a functional team:

You’ve got the responsibility, but you’ve also got the freedom. Think through these questions. Figure out what you think will work best. Do whatever you need to. If you want to connect with other people who are thinking about this, get advice from other businesses, you let me know. Whatever research you need to do, we’ll make it happen. And then come to me with your decisions about how to handle human resources going forward.”

“So you can sign off on them?” Angela challenged.

Tom shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “So I understand what’s happening in the business.”

This is a subtle but important shift from a bossy approach where the boss wants to review and sign off on every activity because he feels the overwhelming need to control every aspect of the team’s work. It is tempting to be so controlling. After all, it’s your business and you want it to succeed. It is so much like raising children and I’m beginning to think that, even there, it is easy to make similar disempowering mistakes. Take a look at this short video of the late H. Stephen Glenn speaking about developing capable young people:

After watching this I want to try a very different approach with my children (as nerve-wracking as that is). The thing with children and pets seems to be balancing their need for structure (I’m still making this up as I go, like most parents) with granting them freedom to grow.

When it comes to adult employees, bossing them around is just stupid. It doesn’t work. It dumbs down teams; discourages innovation and assassinates productivity. Often this form of “management” is really stressful and that creates an unhealthy work environment for now reason other than to satisfy the boss’ need to control what he can’t meaningfully control anyway.

Manage your team, lead them, if you want a capable team. Don’t boss them around. Don’t be that boss.

Image credit: StockSnap.io


5 responses to “If you want capable teams, don’t boss them around

  1. Avishai Bitton avatar

    @pauljacobson I hope I didn’t fall in the “bossy” category 😛

  2. Paul Jacobson avatar

    @Avishai_Bitton Not at all! You worked pretty hard to lead our growing team productively. 🙂

  3. Giovanni Ghignone avatar


    Giovanni Ghignone


  4. Avishai Bitton avatar


    Avishai Bitton


  5. Suzan Gray avatar


    Suzan Gray


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