“What was that email about!?” asked my colleague. He was referring to me forwarding (to him) an email from my boss on how bad our financial performance was for the previous month. He went on to say, “ you could have just told me. Forwarding that email just made it worse!” “Pressure tactics”, I said – tongue in cheek.
I’m sure “forwards” are NOT uncommon in our daily work interactions. I also know that we mainly forward emails from our higher ups to our subordinates to induce pressure on things we fail to get done ourselves. Why do we need the names of our boss or super boss to be mentioned to get things done? Is it because of organisational or societal culture, personal comfort or individual incapability? Or perhaps a combination of all?
We all have images of people who can influence or damage our ecosystem, and the people around us use those names to their advantage, resulting in us doing things we’d rather not do! However, when the names of higher ups are looped in, we are “forced” to do things either out of respect or out of fear. I’m sure many of you are still able to recall our childhood memories of having our Mom threatening us to do our homework; stop watching TV; to get home early, or else she’ll tell our Dad when he returns? Or it could have been our Dad threatening us if it was our Mom with the iron fist at home. When I was growing up, my Dad was the feared one!
So you see, we have been conditioned since young to do things we disliked only when names are dropped. In schools, I’m sure it was the Principal’s name used to instil fear and compliance. My class teacher used to terrify us by saying that anyone who received less than 40 marks in an exam will have to meet the Principal. I used to take her threats lightly until I was sent to the Principal’s office in the 8th Standard for getting a miserable “0” in Biology. Trust me, I never took her threats lightly after that! And today, my wife threatens to go to my sister when she (my wife) can’t handle me. Well, we all have soft spots and this gets exploited by others who come to know about what/who we have soft spots for!
There has also been times when I have asked my direct reports to do things because my bosses asked me for it. And I have been guilty of giving my subordinates short deadlines (and quoting my boss in the process) that they drop all other assignments which they were working on to generate PPTs and reports for me! Well it happens to me too and I’m merely passing it on. So how many times have people used my name to get you to do things for them? If it’s quite frequently, then I’m quite embarrassed. If there’s any consolation, I know I’m not much of a terror and that you guys are NOT “cowed into fear” when my name is used!
To be frank, certain strategies within organizations have also been explained by dropping the names of bosses. I have seen leaders who say “the global CEO has decided”, as it’s easy to get away. As we all know, any strategy can be questioned, debated and shredded by its opponents. The better way to get the buy in of a strategy is to internalize it through engagement. However, many a times when we are not convinced on the logic of a strategy, or it’s painful to explain the logic of a strategy to fellow colleagues, we choose the easy path of saying that the boss wants it that way. I once criticized an organisation’s stand on a strategy only to have my boss ask me if I thought the Global CEO (Jack) was stupid! He (my boss) went on to add that if I was not in favour of the strategy, the door is wide open. I got the message loud and clear and promptly shut up!
There’s also the method of people writing emails to their direct reports and colleagues with the boss kept in the loop to apply pressure for execution and compliance. For me, this too is another form of name-dropping.
And there’s the most popular name-dropping which is used to show power amongst peers. One of my colleagues used to say how he gets direct calls from his super boss just to make his peers nervous. Sometimes when we have access to super bosses, we also make our bosses anxious by telling them about the discussion we had without their knowledge and how the super boss had an entirely different opinion. Sounds familiar ? 🙂
Sometimes it’s difficult to take ownership of tougher situations and explain it in first person. But people get it when they work in organisations that “there are orders from the top” to be followed. But dropping the names of bosses all the time erodes one’s own credibility while having the people around us perceive us to be weak.
How about saying ‘I want this to be done’ versus “boss wants this to be done?” Everything we do in an organisational setting is set by the organisation directly or indirectly. These frameworks, rules, policies, and KPI’s are obviously set by people as organisations are made of people. But if we start using the name of a person “to have it done”, then this reflects poorly on us.
Imagine if I told you that Stephen Covey asked me to blog every week when I had the opportunity to meet him once. How stupid would that have sounded versus the reality – I write because the reactions I receive from you energises me and maybe sometimes my blogs are food for thought for you.