Managers - Treat Your Team Members Like Horses
No manager or leader can succeed in their business goals if they don’t have a team that obeys clear orders or instructions. In today’s times, team members don’t need to behave as obedient slaves but it’s still necessary for them to respect the orders or instructions of their manager.
Often, junior team members may not understand why the manager is asking for certain detailed reports, cutting budgets, instructing them to help a customer beyond what is normally done, or doing some other activity that may seem senseless. But the manager will know why that's needed especially if he or she is a qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable person.
However, if the team members start arguing or refusing to do such work then it will become difficult for the manager, department, or company to succeed. For example, a bunch of 25-year-old brash youngsters must not become so overconfident and rebellious that they can refuse or criticize the decisions of a 40-year-old experienced manager.
Hence, managers must establish their command and authority as soon as they take over. If they take it easy, be too flexible, and let the team members do whatever they want to appear too collaborative, then the manager will lose control and credibility. And it will not be possible to control them later. This is not a new management concept and such authority was exercised but with brutal methods for centuries.
One such example is the leadership style of Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, philosopher, strategist, and writer who lived during the Eastern Zhou period between the 7th and 4th centuries BC. Sun Tzu is the author of The Art of War, an influential work on military strategy and thinking. He is revered in Chinese and East Asia as a legendary historical and military figure.
That was a period of severe conflicts between various warlords all seeking to control China. A certain king named Ho Lu wanted to test Sun Tzu’s skills. He jokingly asked Sun Tzu if he can train his mistresses into soldiers to fight and protect his kingdom in case of a war.
Sun Tzu said it was possible and asked all the mistresses to be brought to the courtyard for training. He then divided them into two groups and placed one of the King’s favorite mistresses as the leader of each group. He then ordered them to take spears in their hands and addressed them as follows,
“I assume you all know the difference between front and back, right hand and left hand?”
The mistresses replied yes in chorus.
Then Sun Tzu gave another instruction.
“When I say eyes front you must look straight ahead. When I say left turn you must turn towards your left. When I say right to turn you must turn towards your right. When I say about turn you must face towards your back.”
The mistresses again agreed.
Having given such instructions he sounded the drum and ordered the right turn. But instead of turning right all the mistresses burst out laughing.
Sun Tzu then said, “If the words of the general are not clear and distinct, or if the orders are not thoroughly understood, then the general is to blame.”
So, he started the drill again and now ordered them to turn left. Again the mistresses burst out laughing.
Once again Sun Tzu said, “If the words of command are not clear and distinct, or if the orders are not understood, the general is to blame. But if his orders are clear, and the soldiers still disobey, then it is the fault of their officers.”
After saying this he ordered the leaders of the two groups to be beheaded. Shocked at this order, the king who was watching from the balcony rushed down to stop the execution stating that he was satisfied with Sun Tzu’s abilities. But Sun Tzu refused and said, “Having once received His Majesty’s approval to be the general of his forces, there are certain commands of His Majesty which, acting in that capacity, I am unable to accept.”
So, refusing to accept the king’s orders, Sun Tzu went ahead and had the two leaders beheaded and immediately installed the pair next as leaders in their place. Then the drum was sounded for the drill once more. Now the mistresses obeyed all the further orders perfectly without any laughter or murmur.
Then Sun Tzu turned to the kind and said, “Your soldiers are now properly drilled and disciplined. They are now ready for your majesty’s inspection and can be put to any use that you may desire. You can bid them go through fire and water, and they will not disobey.”
But the King who was shocked and also amazed replied that Sun Tzu should stop the drill and return to camp. The king said he had no wish to come down and inspect the troops. For this, Sun Tzu said, “The King is only fond of words and cannot translate them into deeds.”
After that, King Ho Lu saw that Sun Tzu was the perfect one who knew how to handle an army and appointed him as his general.
Takeaways from this Story
Now let us see the takeaways from this story. In today’s world, it’s not possible to behead, flog, or physically harm employees to make them obey orders. However, this concept is useful for any manager who wants a disciplined team. New managers must professionally establish their authority as soon as they take over. This is because no manager should tolerate a team that laughs, disobeys, or refuse to follow orders or instructions.
But establishing authority doesn’t mean dictatorship and refusing to listen or accept their team member's points of view or suggestions that may be better than what the manager decided. This just means that the team members must clearly know what is acceptable and unacceptable henceforth. This also means that the boundaries must be clearly established about who is authorized to do what.
For example, a junior team member should not take financial decisions or commit unrealistic services to customers without consulting the manager or company policies. Let me give a real example. Decades ago when I was working in a computer manufacturing firm a rebellious salesperson, who was a seasoned liar, had confidently committed to providing free licensed software to a government customer without approval from the management just to clinch a hardware order.
Later, when the hardware was supplied the software was not supplied. But in the sales quote, the free software was clearly mentioned and the customer did not release the payment till the expensive software was supplied resulting in a huge loss to the company on that order. Soon, it was discovered that he had made such blatant commitments that could not be fulfilled to any customers, and was eventually fired from the company.
However, managers should not expect their team to read their minds. Hence, before making unilateral changes managers must clearly and non-threateningly communicate their vision, mission, do’s & don’ts, etc., so that the team is aware of their expectations.
It doesn’t matter how their earlier manager was managing the team. A new manager will have a new style of functioning that the team must now accept. For example, if you read business news it’s quite common to read about some high-level exits whenever a new CEO takes over a company. They may or may not have been fired, but what will be understood is they may not like the new CEO’s style of functioning.
Finally, the leader should have firm control over his team like how a horseman holds the reins, not too tight to immobilize the horse and also not too loose to let it run haywire.
Some Famous Quotes
Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way - General George Patton
He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander - Aristotle
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm - Publilius Syrus
He who has learned how to obey will know how to command - Solon
The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not a bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly - Jim Rohn
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock - Thomas Jefferson
Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise - Woodrow Wilson
Never give an order that can't be obeyed - General Douglas MacArthur
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~ 🤵 About the Author — Thejendra Sreenivas was a Technology Manager in the IT industry for nearly 30 years. He is now an Author and Book Publishing Coach and helps authors to Self-Publish their books Worldwide on Amazon and Non-Amazon retailers. He has written 30+ books on various topics. Visit his online cave — www.thejendra.com for more details.
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