Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Are My People Responsible Even When No One's Watching?

by Judy Ryan

“Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”
-C.S. Lewis

For years, I have been spitting in the soup of leaders using control models whether in homes, schools, community organizations, or businesses. Engaging in control models is choosing extrinsic motivation to get people to do what you want. This approach is never good; it weakens intrinsic motivation in your people and causes them to disengage. However, if you sufficiently and intentionally develop personal responsibility in your people, they will be as high-performing when working from home (without anyone watching) as they are in the office. A silver lining of the Covid19 pandemic is that you get to see how well-developed and personally responsible your people behave and how good you are at developing them rather than controlling them. The four control models to dismantle are:

Autocratic: This is when authority figures believe they must manage and police people because they do not trust them. This approach leads to a command-and-control way of operating from leadership to direct reports. One outcome is that your people resentfully comply, doing mediocre, C-level work, while often looking and feeling like victims. Another outcome is that they rebel and resist, becoming angry and mean-spirited.

Incentives: This is also thought of as dangling carrots to get people to do what you want. When you use this method, you believe it’s your job to motivate your direct reports, and without an inducement, your people are basically selfish and lazy. The outcome is that your people become competitive, rush past quality, and develop a ‘gimme’ attitude. Worst of all, their commitment to the desired behavior (the one you want them to care about) is diminished.

This is when an authority figure bestows either praise (which is much different than encouragement and something we all need) or criticism. Bestowing is only possible in a power-over dynamic. The belief you hold about people is that they are less deserving than you or others of leadership titles. As praise, this sounds like, “Go out and get me that sale. Make me proud.” As criticism, this sounds like, “I’m so disappointed in you.” This approach cultivates people-pleasers, yes-men and women, brown-nosing, and loss of authenticity and creativity--all to keep the boss happy. More confident people in the organization think, “Who died and made you God?” and rebel.

Pamper and Spoil: This is when an authority figure hovers, nags, reminds, or does something for someone who is otherwise capable of doing it themselves. People are rescued, exempted, or pitied by leaders. With this approach, a leader turns a blind eye toward low performance, which can often result in overcompensation. An example is celebrity parents who pay to secure higher SAT scores for their kids to help them make it into Ivy-league schools. Pampering and spoiling sends a message that you don’t have faith in someone’s capabilities. The results are under-performance and an entitled attitude.

The reason all these control methods are so popular is that they seem to ‘work’. They DO work some of the time, but not without a costly and terrible price tag. 

Responsibility Instead: This is when leaders develop their people. You train them and mentor them to be personally responsible and support them until they can own their tasks. With your guidance, they learn to manage their relationships, productivity, engagement, and progress plan. This process takes time upfront but pays huge dividends. You help your people to be fully engaged and accountable from love rather than fear. Love is not always thought of as a politically correct word or skill in the workplace, but it should be. What else would you call it when leaders take time to develop their people and give them the kind of support that leads them to be caring, competent and collaborative members of a workforce? While they are working from home without supervision, avoid becoming angry if their output goes down. Instead, take this behavior change as a cue for you to take more time to help them to be responsible. I’m here to help if you decide to do so.

Judy Ryan (, human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!
Submitted 3 years 326 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
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