Leadership 101 – Nobody wants to be told what to do

Ben Martinez COVID-19, Learning and Development

You will live a miserable life trying to control people by telling them what to do. 

There is a time and place for inserting yourself into someone’s life or telling them what is needed to make their life better. The silver lining of all this work from home is that we have learned how to trust ourselves to get the job done, which also allows us to put trust in others.  

With kids, just like people we work with, this can be hard but you must let people figure it out on their own and it takes trust, patience, and staying out of people’s way. 

I experienced a learning situation the other morning with my 10-year-old son who wanted to make pancakes BUT he didn’t want my help. He was sure he knew how to do it and went about making the pancakes. Anytime I attempted to help him, he would snap at me and say “I know how to do it”. I could have yelled at him and caused a big scene but I realized this was about me teaching him and him also teaching me how to control my emotions and help him. 

I took a step back and let him make the pancakes. I would only intervene when I saw a fatal mistake about to occur (i.e., too much batter, water or milk, etc.). The good news here is that we are talking about pancakes, not something more life or death. The bigger lesson is that I am learning how to control my emotions and watch the pancakes almost get ruined but more importantly is that I am giving my son confidence. Confidence is a breeding ground for learning and the bigger news is that I am teaching my son how to cook. A life lesson.

Granted, his Mom is a better cook than me and she has taught him a few lessons as well, but I am teaching him by letting him do and fail, then learn and succeed. I am there to prevent a bad mistake (catching fire with the stove). I am there to help. This is work. This is about organizing ingredients into an orderly recipe to make good pancakes. My job is basically to make sure he has a good experience with making pancakes. 

Take a step back and think about all the disorders going around us. All the things that need to be organized so that there can be a good turnout. Something as simple as pancakes being made. How many times do we step in and insert our authority role and tell people what to do? 

Nobody wants to be told what to do. Your kids don’t, your people at work don’t. Everyone is looking for a way out of their problems. Many people are working hard to make more money and get out of money problems, but perhaps a lack of money is not their problem. Define the problem.

People want freedom and by telling people what to do, you are not giving them freedom. This is not to say that people don’t need direction and a good vision. Show them the vision, but let them find their way and be there when they need it. 

Lastly, I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just doing my work here.