I was yelling.  I mean yelling.  I was 3 months into my job as a manager and I was on the phone with one of my guys and we were going at it.  I was the boss! Who was he to question me or to push back on my direction.  I had tried incentives.  I had tried to relate to him, but nothing was working.  It was time to use my power to force him to do what was needed.

He hung up on me.  He also did what I yelled at him to do, but he did it begrudgingly.  The effect on the account was half-ass and we both suffered from the lack luster effort.  I later apologized for treating him like a child.  He apologized for letting it get that far, but the truth was he had nothing to be sorry for.  I had failed in my leadership.

I have always referred to the use of power as a case of either ‘the carrot or the stick’.  Power…  That is right-  I used THAT word.  It is absolutely true that all managers have POWER.  We have to have power in order to do our jobs.  Some people may not like the word, but it is what it is.  Princeton online defines power as:  Possession of controlling influence.

I have recently learned that there are different types of power.  There is Hard Power and Soft Power.  Hard Power is power exerted through force.  You may have seen it displayed at the office in the following ways:

  • Emails in all caps
  • Actual yelling at grown men and women
  • Proximity management (sit here so I can watch you)
  • Write ups with no direction on improvement
  • Incentives to do your job- bonuses without direction

Conversely there is such a thing as Soft Power.  Soft Power is used when a leader has buy-in.  It is a direct contradiction to Hard Power and is defined by asymmetricthreat.net as-  The ability to shape the preferences of others and get others to want the outcomes you want.  YESSIR!  See the difference?

The Carrot or the Stick?

The Carrot or the Stick?

What is ‘the carrot and the stick’ (CaS) some of you may ask?  It is a metaphor used by managers to describe how to motivate people.  The idea is that much like a donkey, people can be motivated by either being whipped with a stick or being tempted to move along with the aid of a carrot dangled in front of them. Many managers believe that the carrot is a Soft Power tool. FAIL

I have recently decided that the carrot is as much a tool of Hard Power as the stick is.   Managers can tempt their teams with a carrot, but it is only generating a preconditioned response.  There is no buy-in from the employee.  The carrot becomes a whipping tool used just like a stick.  Most diplomacy defines Hard Power as having control financially over a country or region (sanctions for example).

The CaS metaphor further breaks down as it equates employees to stubborn mules (or Donkeys- I know there is a difference).  There is no way people and donkeys are even in the same boat, even though I believe Donkeys are AWESOME and way better than most animals-  like say…. otters!

I recommend that all managers and leaders work to gain buy-in from their staff on the direction and ideas of the team.  When direction is a group effort and the team works together to achieve goals, then Hard Power is not necessary.  Here are 5 lessons on how to improve on your ability to use Soft Power:

  • Write down what you believe and share it with your team. I call this a Leadership Manifesto. It is a tried and true list of 5 – 10 core beliefs you have as a person.  Once your team knows what you believe, they can communicate with you more effectively.
  • Never push back a one-on-one meetings for any reason. GUILTY!  I do this way more than I should.  This shows disrespect for your team members and does not generate buy in on team ideas.
  • Ask Questions. It is critical to get ideas and input from everyone and asking questions is the only way to do it. Ask WHY and then when you have an answer,  ask WHY again.
  • Say good morning to everyone and good night to anyone left. This may not seem like a big deal, but I say hello to most everyone on my team each morning.  It is sometimes the only 3 minute pocket I have with them when the world is not blowing up in our face.  I have the time to invest in what they say.
  • Tell your team when you have to fight for them.  I will let my team know when I have to scrap for them.  I never do so in a way that makes management seem off-putting to their issues.  I simply let them know that it is my job to take bullets for them.  That is part of why I get paid.

Simply understanding what power is and how it can be used is critical.  By implementing some changes in how you work with your team, you could instantly change the team dynamics.  Try it and let me know how this has worked for you.

Do you believe that there is a place for Hard Power in the work place?  Have you seen areas where the carrot is just an orange, edible stick?

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