Some Old Standbys Have a Shelf Life

“Because I said so.”

How many conversations have there been where one party was trying to get another (usually a much smaller or younger party) to do something and used that logic? The number is probably somewhere in the vicinity of the number of times all the plastic bottles in the world wrap around Earth times a jillion.  “Because I said so” is a classic. A favorite go-to phrase that has been adapted and used in just about every culture.

While today’s parents rely on other means of coercion – strike that – persuasion, “Because I said so,” in all its verbal and non-verbal forms, is still a favorite standby that finds its way into grown-up on grown-up action.

What is the afterlife of, “Because I said so” post-child rearing? The carryover into its use in leadership is a natural. All that conditioning in childhood has to influence the way we see and the way we are people in charge. How does the phrase (and the ideology) manifest? When all 
else fails, “Because I said so” becomes a last ditch rationale; a pulling of the power card. “I’m the boss because I hired YOU.”

Man with Arms folded

And as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Not so much. The phrase was barely effective when we were children. Why do we have greater expectations of it now? Adults are no different than children in this respect: none of us one likes to do anything just because someone else supposedly has the say so. Besides, now that we’re grownups isn’t part of the benefit that we also get a say too?

In today’s world, “Because I said so,” doesn’t have many subscribers from the Gen Y community. Hierarchy is all but invisible to them. Yet there are still some stunning examples of leaders today missing the point: that leadership is a collective phenomenon and if both parties aren’t treated with respect then very little good can happen. And retention from the rising crop of star players? Forget about it. The Gen Y workforce is not one to stick around in the first place and if they get any kind of whiff that they are not respected (let alone admired or, in some cases, revered), they will be out the door so fast it can
 make your head spin.

Some time ago, I was offered a project in another country. The paperwork proceeded at a very slow pace and the contract was given to me within a few weeks of the event start date. It was a basic contract with a few unusual points but all in all very simple. After receiving clarification on one item, I signed and returned it. In the weeks that followed, I was working out of town and 
largely unavailable. The company knew of my schedule and a few days after receiving my signed contract, they sent a new, revised contract in an email instructing me to sign immediately. There was no acknowledgment that I might need to review it and decide how to respond.

The revised contract included an additional amendment which put me at great risk and disadvantage. It stipulated that as an independent contractor, I could be let go at any time for any reason. There was no mention of what would happen in such case, only to say that the company had the right to do so without notice or cause.

As my mother would say, the act of adding that clause after the original contract (without this clause) was already signed was a red flag.

In light of the change, I would now need additional language to address the revised terms and give myself the proper protection (that I would be paid and not stranded in another country). When I
 approached the company with an amendment to be made, the person in charge of negotiating (and drawing up the contract, so I suspect) was unresponsive and then intractable. He did not want to change the contract and refused to do so.

Time was running out as the job began in a few days. I explained that the changes made to the contract meant that my request for revisions were not negotiable. Again he responded by instructing me in the body of the email, to sign the contract and not make changes.

In other words, “Because I said so.”

Interestingly, in the body of his email, the company liaison basically agreed to the terms that I had requested. So here is the question I still cannot answer: if they were willing to provide these terms and even write them in a legally binding email, then why not add them in the contract?

I couldn’t for the life of me understand why this was getting so difficult, but I agreed with my mom (and several others) that it was a giant red flag. The entire process was soured. The respect that I had for this company and my willingness to ever work with them again was affected. Their lack of recognition of the importance of negotiating in good faith was, to me, a poor reflection of the standards that the company holds. It was not strong leadership I saw in his stance in negotiations; it was a lack of awareness, competence and ability to manage people or change.

What is our definition of being the leader? Is it the one “giving the orders”? Is it the decision maker? Is it the one who is hiring? Does being the party who is doing the hiring mean you are the one with all the power?

I think those days are over.

Mutual respect is a reasonable expectation for all parties to hold in any relationship. It seems that the most admired 
and revered leaders understand this. Even leaders known to be headstrong find they cannot totally disregard the wishes of the other party.

Whether you are a leader for a project or a leader for a lifetime, without acknowledgement respect and a certain degree of partnership, the potential outcomes are limited.

Growing up as someone who deeply respects the person in 
charge and values the ethos of respecting authority and of using one’s own judgment, the whole experience with this company made me rethink how I enter into joint partnerships. With whom do I want to work?

It all comes down to alignment of vision and trust. There are certain communication (and trust building) skills that come to mind when I think of effective leadership:

  1. Listening
  2. Responsivity
  3. Consistency of framework (chain of command/who is responsible for what)
  4. Philosophy reflected in behavior (walk your talk)
  5. Ability to make decisions
  6. Negotiation and conflict resolution skills
  7. Knowing how to keep everyone connected (in loop), where to ask for and apply
    feedback,disassociate elements that are not constructive, and give constructive
    feedback
  8. Maintain command in crisis situations (composure, control, and clear thinking)

Upon reflection, there were few moments where the leader of this company had demonstrated any of these skills. That discovery was a big ‘aha’ for me.

The first ‘aha’ led to a second: just because a company hires you does not mean it buys you. It occurred to me that perhaps I was being treated like this because the 
person on the other end of the deal saw our relationship as one where he was buying me rather than hiring me. If so, he was acting in accordance with his view of our roles in the relationship. As far as I could tell, because I was the one being hired, I was to give up my rights to be heard or valued. That is why I felt so uneasy and unable to trust him. Once I realized this, I vowed that it would never happen again. I can’t change how another party sees me, but I can choose whom I agree to hire me. And saying yes when mutual respect and trust are not present won’t benefit either party.

How many keys do you use to build trust and unlock your organization’s potential?

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