November 06

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Leadership hack 015 – there are three ways to get people to do something

When you want somebody to do something, you have three choices:

  1. Rely on altruism by appealing to their better nature
  2. Threaten adverse consequences if they don’t do it
  3. Re-frame the request to highlight mutual benefit

Each of these approaches has advantages and drawbacks, and the effectiveness of each will differ with context.

Altruism is incredibly powerful, but you need a compelling narrative that means something to the person you are trying to convince, you also need to be trusted.  Trust takes time to build and appealing to altruism only works when used sparingly, which limits its utility.

Threats will only work if someone believes that you have the power and intent to carry out the threat.  However, there is a high risk that people will openly rebel or even subvert or sabotage what you are trying to achieve.  Threats will not result in people’s best work – it’s hard to be creative or innovative if you are worried about your job.  Despite these risks, there are some circumstances when you need to be very clear with people that if they do (or don’t do) something, it will result in negative consequences.  For example, a threat may be appropriate when someone is about to put themselves or someone else in danger, break the law, or endanger your organisation.

Re-framing takes more time.  You will need to think more deeply about what you need to be done, and how it could benefit other people.  You then need to be able to communicate the benefits and be trusted enough to share the benefits.

So which should you use and when?

You need to balance what you need to achieve, the consequence of failure and your relationship with others.  During my decade in the military, the soldiers and officers serving with me could have refused my orders (but the consequences for them would have been grave).  Early in my military career, I adopted the mindset that everything in life is a negotiation (bar physics).  This mindset forced me to try and always find time to communicate other people’s role in the plan, what the plan meant for them and what it meant for the team.  While there were many times that I did not do this (sometimes due to genuine emergencies, and other due to failures on my part), the people  I worked with respected that I tried, and often rewarded me with outcomes and performance far greater than anything I had ever envisioned.

You too can adopt the everything in life is a negotiation, and see your relationships with others strengthen, your people will become more motivated and your results improve.