Why Telling People What to do makes them Stupid

While directions and plans may help you put together furniture from Ikea (with a little luck), put together your kids toys on Christmas Eve or even build enormous buildings and superstructures they don’t inspire people to give their lives to a cause or join a movement. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘I have a dream’, not ‘ I have a plan’.

While telling people what to do may help you accomplish your plan, the dark side to telling people what to do is that it builds a culture that…

1. Repels Leaders

2. Thwarts Innovation

3. Discourages Involvement

4. Stifles the Development of Talent

5. Undermines Creativity

6. Uses People instead of Empowers them

7. Avoids Risk and Plays it Safe

What else would you add to the list? What experience do you have with leaders who seem to have the need to tell people what to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment. Want to dig into this idea further? Check out this TED Talk by Simon Sinek.

Posted in Leadership

3 Responses to “Why Telling People What to do makes them Stupid”

  1. Bill Weisler December 17, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    I agree with you 100%, but there are two issues with this theory. As someone who works for the government, one of the first sacrifices of not telling people what and how, is consistency. Whenever you allow several different people the opportunity to do the same task in their own way, sooner or later, usually sooner, their outcomes look nothing alike. Instead you foster the creative process, by allowing others to make suggestions to the process, where possible allow people to accomplish tasks in their own style, but that the outcome must still fit a mandated form and fashion. Changes to the process are openly accepted for consideration, and promptly accepted when they improve the overall process.

    The second issue is the theory sort of assumes that everyone either wants to be a leader or has the capacity to be a leader. Simply put, some people need to be told what to do because they do not have the capability and/or the want to be able to accomplish it on their own.

    For me to accept someone as an up and coming leader, they must show an apt and, not or, a willingness to accomplish leader type aspects. They must look at leadership not as an opportunity to command others, but to be seen as an example of how to accomplish much with the help of others.

    When you entrust someone with a leadership responsibility, allow him/her to lead to their strengths and weaknesses, just as you described above. But you cannot allow the creative process to over rule the sometimes necessity of consistency.

  2. Paul Alexander December 17, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Great thoughts Bill! You’re right that empowerment for the sake of empowerment can lead thousands of directions without a clear framework or guardrails for team members to operate within.


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