Bosses that establish power and control over their people and processes with a carrot-and-stick approach to motivation certainly get results and have succeeded for decades.

These bosses, however, are also notorious for killing intrinsic motivation and turning good, smart, and creative employees into order takers who will quickly disengage from their work.

This means that at some point, bosses must do what the best of leaders always do: get out of the way and not interfere with the people in the trenches doing the work.

Companies with the highest employee engagement -- the ones that also have the best financial performance, even in tough economic times -- are the ones with the least power and control over their tribes, says Gallup research.

While top-down management is still the norm in this century (shocking, I know), here are four things the best of leaders would never do that most top-down bosses infamously do:  

1. They use "I" or "you" rather than "we" language.

For example: "I want this done like this..." or "I need you to do this for me..." are words that typically come out of a boss's mouth to a worker-bee culture. The "I" lingo is a classic way of trying to control employees while communicating to them that they are there to serve the boss, not the other way around (which is the essence of servant leadership). Negative "you" lingo that is deemed as critical or judgmental may sound like this: "You didn't keep your promise" or "You showed incompetence in that meeting." On the flip side, "we" language implies that the challenge or problem is the concern and responsibility of both leader and follower. It suggests inclusion, immediacy, cohesiveness, and commitment. Example: "We need to figure out a system that works more efficiently." "We" language is especially crucial for bringing a team under crisis together, not to mention winning the trust of your customers.

2. They stifle the work environment with too much bureaucracy.

Want to see an obsolete, top-down management structure at work? Simple. Just look at the approval process to get a purchase order for a box of pens. In a hierarchy, there are so many levels of approval, so many committees, work groups, and councils that meet, and so many layers of management and steps required to make a final decision, employees get their motivational wind knocked out of them and ultimately suffer from the bureaucracy. It clearly communicates to them, "We don't trust you."

3. They shut down feedback.

One of the toughest tests for the top-down leader is being open to receiving feedback. Naturally, humility and listening skills are prerequisites that top-down bosses struggle with in order to ask respected high-performers the impossible question, "How am I doing as your leader?" Because top-down leaders are driven by hubris, they have a hard time detaching from their own inner-voices to consider other voices, because they think they're always right. What these bosses can learn from the best and most humble leaders is that, by being interested in receiving honest and objective feedback, they can grow further and perform better. 

4. They instill fear rather than promote love.

Contrary to conventional thought, the opposite of love is not hate, it's fear. And fear in the workplace severely limits our ability to perform, create, and innovate. When fear kicks in under heavily micro-managed environments, our bodies react with higher levels of stress and anxiety, which correlates with physical illnesses, like heart disease, that are consistent with working with fear. On the flip side, an increasing body of evidence from positive psychology experts the likes of Richard Davidson, Shawn Achor, Barbara Frederickson and others confirm a simple fact: Happy people cared for by loving leaders in a culture of belonging are better workers. And that translates to good business outcomes.

Published on: Apr 11, 2018