As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat--there are at least half a dozen different leadership styles you could use. And if you adopt one style as a parent, you'll probably naturally default to that style at work, too (or vise versa).

But the one parenting and leadership style that experts overwhelmingly reject for most situations is the authoritarian or autocratic style. This style, which still can have appropriate applications, leans on a drill sergeant or my-way-or-the-highway approach, with most of the language falling back to command statements that are woefully deficient in explanations.  

The backlash of authoritarianism

Kids with authoritarian parents have been shown to have worsening behavior problems over time. They also are more likely to have social and educational problems, be less self-reliant, struggle more with moral reasoning and encounter emotional issues like depression.

And because authoritarian leaders in the office so often dictate exactly what to do, workers can end up being less creative. They also can feel demotivated and angry, not only because they're not coming up with awesome ideas independently, but because they're afraid of whatever discipline the boss will dish out should they fail.

In short, the lack of cooperation makes the person being dictated to feel like they have zero control. They genuinely get the message that they aren't appreciated, intelligent, capable or important.

The easiest way to get out of the authoritarian rut

If you don't want to be autocratic, ask a question.

The idea here is simple. You can't make a demand if you're making a request.

So for example, instead of saying, "Put your toys in the bin", try "Would you pick up your toys so we can make sure no one trips or hurts their feet?" Or in the office, "Turn everything in to be by 3:00 p.m." becomes "Will you drop everything off to me by 3:00 p.m. so I can forward them right away in the morning?"

This subtle word shift instantly will feel more cooperative to your listener. And note that, in the above examples, the rationale or "why" for the request is clear, too (e.g., so no one gets hurt, so you can forward the materials). The first example also incorporates "we", which implies togetherness and the idea that everyone shares the goal.

How to give your questions power ups

If it's possible, modeling in the moment will amplify whatever you ask. For instance, if you put two or three toys in the bin as you make your request, then you reinforce what you want your child to do. And in the same way, if you wanted your team to communicate with you via chat for a few hours, then you could ask them to do so through that client.

Of course, everyday conversation will feel awkward if everything you need someone to do is a question. So couple requests with the removal of negatives in your language. For example, if your toddler is yanking on your sleeve trying to get you to give them juice, you can say, "I can get your juice in a bit", rather than "I can't get your juice now." And if someone tries to interrupt you in a meeting, instead of "Wait until I'm finished", you can say, "I'll get to you in just a moment."

Ultimately, whether you're handling family bedtime or managing an international corporation, people want to have a sense that they're seen and respected, that they have both autonomy and inclusion simultaneously. Trade demands and negatives for inquiry and positives and you'll give it to them, all without sacrificing a single one of your goals.

Published on: Apr 25, 2019
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