Someone recently asked me advice on telling people what to do. How do I go about it? Am I nice? Am I super blunt? How do I give people orders every day?
“I really don’t,” I said.
“But aren’t you, like, the boss?”
“So, doesn’t that mean you tell everybody what to do? Isn’t that the job?”
I’ve heard people say that they want to be the boss exactly for that reason, so that they could “just tell other people what to do.“
And I think there are a lot of “bosses“ out there who legitimately feel like this is their responsibility. This includes business owners.
But this really isn’t the case. Beyond asking someone to hand me a pen, it is pretty rare for me to explicitly give someone a command. Rare doesn’t mean never. It does happen. Usually in the form of creating a project for somebody to accomplish. But I certainly don’t spend my day barking out orders. And if you’re in charge, I don’t think you should either.
Now, before I go further, there are exceptions. In some businesses, you do need a commander on the field actually directing traffic and keeping things moving efficiently. This exists. But I think it’s a lot more rare than most think. And if you are the business owner and this is you, something is wrong.
So, if I’m not telling people what to do, what am I doing? Why aren’t I? How does anything get done?
Instead of explicitly telling people what to do, I hire smart, capable, responsible people, I make sure they know what’s important, I work with them to determine their responsibilities (a process they are a part of), and then I let them do pretty much whatever they think they should.
Because the people closest to their responsibilities know what is necessary much better than I do, they are infinitely more capable of deciding what needs to be done and when.
They do a far better job of assigning themselves tasks than I ever could.
This ends up being a win-win for everybody. I’m not constantly needed to keep people busy, allowing me the time and mental bandwidth necessary for me to work on the bigger picture. The last 12 months have been a major restructuring at Life Saver. There’s no way that I could have even seen what needed to be done, let alone have the capacity to accomplish it, if all my time and energy was spent feeding people their daily tasks.
Just as important, my employees are happier and more fulfilled. They have ownership over their responsibilities, and get to structure things in the way that works best for them.
Now, in order for this to work, you need to do a few things.
1) You need to spend a bit more time and money to get the type of person capable of thinking on their own. It might take trying out a few people before you find the right one. And if you are planning to cheap out on employee pay, you should also plan on having to tell them what to do every minute of every day.
2) You have to be OK with people doing things differently than you might — or maybe even not as well. You can’t give people freedom and then get upset when they use it. Mistakes are inevitably going to happen, as well. Make a conscious choice ahead of time to be fine with all of this so that you can improve your odds of reacting correctly when it happens.
3) You have to keep open the lines of communication. Expectations need to be clear on both sides, and you need to be available to answer questions and offer guidance as needed.
Being a boss doesn’t have to mean bossing people around (and if that’s something you WANT to do, because your ego likes the sound of ordering folks about, you probably should avoid being in charge of anyone until you address that). With a relatively small change in thinking, and a few key steps, you can give your team and yourself the freedom you are looking for.
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