Have you been in the room when and on the receiving end when a leader says, “Because I’m the ... [insert title here]”? I have experienced both occasions. I am stunned each time that phrase leaves a leader's lips. When voiced, it reeks of immaturity. It is a statement steeped in power and control that unravels goodwill and destroys relationships. I have never understood why leaders think this is effective. What’s the purpose of exuding your authority and power by lashing someone with your title?
It is said more frequently than leaders like to admit. Whether spoken in person, dictated virtually, or used in an email, this tactic has no good purpose. It is an outward and obvious signal of the leader's frustration about the circumstances. It negatively shuts down and ends the conversation. When used, it’s a very irritating response and alienates the receiver immediately. This tactic does not foster healthy communication, promote healthy dialogue, or emphasize respect for others.
All leaders must make missteps to grow in their leadership journey. This behavior is frequently attributed to new or inexperienced leaders with upgraded roles or responsibilities and entering a different power dynamic. It is a lesson taught to inexperienced leaders by other leaders. To make an impact quickly, the new leader will make these statements to show others they are in control. This phrase breaks down team dynamics, often leading to poor long-term results.
Experienced leaders often perform this tactic for the same reasons as new leaders. When they do it, it is the most disappointing. It does not give leaders the gravitas they think it does. When said by experienced leaders, they present themselves as petty and egotistical. It is a micromanagement technique that signals the leader distrusts their team. It signals to the receiver that they are inconsequential and that this person, topic, or situation is beneath the leader. It is weaponized to create and perpetuate toxic company culture and puts unhealthy leadership behavior on full display. It purposely makes others feel smaller. The unintended consequence is that staff start to distance themselves from the leader. It is noticeable as the company experiences staff turnover and decreased performance as the team stops following their leaders. I have never seen it positively affect a conversation or relationship.
Why do leaders think this tactic is effective?
It is never an effective tactic to use in any situation. This tactic perpetuates the company culture's power struggle by dividing “Us” from the “Them” - lengthening the separation between management and non-management staff. It erodes the leader's brand and leadership potential. It signals fear and manipulation as the principal leadership drivers. This tactic does more harm than good, no matter the circumstances it is wielded.
Why is this an intentional strategy leaders continue to use?
- It is a learned behavior passed down like trauma. Someone did it to the leader so they do it to others. We all learn by example.
- Leaders who do this may be unaware of their behavior. They may need to be made aware of their behavior and a compassionate course correction.
- Leaders purposely do this to control others; they may dislike sharing power and responsibility. When they exude power, they believe that moving forward quickly is easier than giving others the space and time to discuss issues and foster relationships. It’s another attempt to micromanagement the situation.
What should leaders do instead?
When you are feeling challenged, listen more. Embrace normalizing challenging conversations with staff with other points of view. Learn by asking questions to understand the circumstances better. Consider some of the following questions:
- I would like to hear more about your point of view. Please share more of your thoughts with me.
- How can I provide more clarification, guidance, or support to you?
- How can I help you achieve the set direction?
- Do you have the resources you need to move forward?
- Is there something you need that will help us move forward together?
- Can something be clarified in the vision or task so we can move forward?
Asking open-ended questions signals a leader with empathy and compassion who fosters cooperation and team building. It is the opposite of using fear, manipulation, and control. It is a relationship builder and not a relationship destroyer.
Power struggles always negatively impact your company culture. When leaders use statements that demand power, it erodes trust every time. When used too often, trust disappears, culture degrades, and relationships become impossible to repair.
Culture is what you do, not only what you say. Leaders who create frequent contradictions in written messages or policies, during company conversations, or between their behaviors and actions are the reason for cultural misalignment. These contradictions become the employees' dominant experience. Thereby, the employee internalizes the contradictions as the unspoken definition of your company culture. It creates a misalignment in company culture between what you say and what you do. You can read more about the impact on culture in the “Words matter, but…” blog post.
Everyone deserves a chance to learn, reflect, and grow eternally with grace, patience, and understanding from others. Everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone is a leader. Therefore, leaders make mistakes. Leaders can make mistakes as often as they need to become better leaders. Failure is often the best teacher. Allow leaders to make mistakes and grow from them without persecution (unless they break the law).
How will you learn and grow in your leadership today? If you need additional guidance, contact us at Pensivetastic. Let’s collaborate to define your path forward. We’ll help you get there.