One Cannot Govern Others Without Consent  

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering

One of the many lessons that I was slow in learning is that personal success is an illusion and never within one’s control. Once learned, this lesson has been reinforced over and over again throughout my career, but perhaps the best example is the frequent reminders a colleague persists in providing.
Almost a decade ago, I led a team—all subject matter experts in their chosen field—as we helped a large, high-speed manufacturing client in its transformation from a highly reactive to a best-in-class operation. As is my nature, I worked very hard to create a team concept where each of us worked together as a team of equals. In addition to our own area of expertise, we would always provide support for others on the team. In spite of my effort to create a team concept, one of the team members insisted on calling me “boss.” No matter how many times I reminded him that there were no bosses on our team, he would not relent. After this went on for months, I finally sat down with him and asked why he insisted on calling me boss. His answer was both short and profound—“you are my boss as long as I let you be.” His message was clear—an inherent attribute of human nature is an acceptance system that determines who can be trusted, merits respect and is worthy of being followed. All others are tolerated or ignored.
I hope that you can grasp the significance and magnitude of this simple comment. We are the boss only when those who work for us allow us to be. They may report to us on the organization chart, and we may sign their timesheets and do their performance reviews, but we will be their boss only when they let us be. Sometimes we can force them, through fear of losing their jobs, to perform certain tasks. But we cannot command their involvement or willingness to do more than go through the physical motion of their job.
Over the intervening decade, I have observed far too many managers—at all levels—who apparently do not understand this basic attribute of human nature. Like monarchs of old, they believe acceptance naturally comes with the title. They truly believe that their direct reports will, without question, embrace their leadership and blindly follow wherever they lead. This type of manager is easy to spot. They rarely talk, really talk, with their direct reports and when they do, the communication is one way—I talk, you listen. Trust is unknown. Is it any wonder that these companies are unable to operate effectively?
Fortunately, I have also observed true leaders. While their numbers are smaller, their presence is clear for all to see. It is obvious that these leaders understand human nature and the attributes they must exhibit to be permitted to lead. All of the indicators are evident: continuous communication is two-way, everyone functions seamlessly within the team, and mutual trust is universal. One will see true leaders make time to spend time with everyone on the team, have open, honest dialog with them, listen—truly listen—to their input, and treat each and every one as an equal. They are the boss only because the team members permit them to be.
To me, the fascinating part of these two diametrically opposed management styles is that they too often coexist within the same company. A company may have a strong chief executive who is a natural leader but his middle managers are old school and do not understand human nature. Even when the executive makes the time to meet with the entire workforce—to exhibit the attributes of a good leader—his actions are nullified by members of the management team who just do not get it. Unfortunately, the outcome is preordained. Even when the chief executive is a strong leader, it is impossible to achieve sustainable world-class performance without strong leaders throughout the organization.
Some believe that a few strong leaders within a company, especially when they are in key areas, are enough to assure success. Based on almost five decades of observations, this is true only when the strong leaders are the clear majority. Even one weak manager can, and too often does, limit the company’s performance. Are you a strong leader who leads with the consent of those you lead or are you a manager by right of title?

"One Cannot Govern Without Consent"

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,
R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

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