My own native country of Greece is famous for some of the first experiments with various forms of civil authority. Its history demonstrates that leading others has never been a simple or popular task, because it is often confused with, or perceived as, unchecked or unquestioned authority and therefore must be overthrown.
Appropriate and sensible questioning of any authority is not only acceptable, it is a pivotal requirement for the healthy growth of each and every organization regardless of size or importance.
In business, the most valuable people are those who can solve problems creatively by introducing fresh ideas and solutions. Those who never ask “why” or “why not” may be too willing to comply with the status quo and are less likely to proactively offer new solutions. Yet others are simply not invested enough in the company’s well being to care. Leaders understand that it is not their authority that persuades, but their reasoning and compassion. As the CEO of multiple companies for the last 22 years, I have always fostered a work environment where everyone has a voice and know up front that they will have an opportunity to speak their minds, ask questions and understand my reasoning. They also know that the ultimate decision will not be to everyone’s liking. Everyone understands, however, that all must comply as if the decision were his or her own and that adherence to that decision is not optional.
Only weak leaders view questions as an attack on their authority – it is their loss, as well as their employees’. Stifling creativity and discouraging alternative perspectives on problems leads to the kind of myopic decision-making that drives entire industries out of business. Embracing the ingenuity of your employees brings out their best and the best for your company.
The same is true at home. Two-way communication with our kids not only strengthens our relationships, it also nurtures their imagination and builds confidence. If we think their viewpoints are important, they will too. By discouraging questions and squelching independent thought, we are telling them that they do not have anything valuable to contribute.
None of us wants our children to be members of the herd, moving thoughtlessly with every trend or whim. So how do we teach them to lead? First we teach them that we value them as individuals and by being so, their personal power is rooted in the ability to make their own decisions.
When my daughter was 12 we visited a shopping complex, the entrance of which had a revolving door and a long line of people waiting to enter. There was a single side door that no one was using to the left of the revolving door with a traffic jam trying to get through.
So I took my daughter by the hand and headed toward one of the side doors. At first she resisted, feeling we should wait along with everyone else. I assured her that everything would be fine. We entered the mall and moments later she noticed a new line forming at the very door we had used.
“That is the herd mentality,” I explained, pointing to the revolving door. “They are all going very slowly to the same place by the same route. But as soon as we took a different path, what happened?” “Other people followed,” she replied. “Exactly,” I agreed. “Never be afraid to take a different path. Someone has to.”
Every child needs to learn that while there are rules that must be observed, they should also question the actions of the crowd before joining in. The way the crowd is going may be best for you, but it may not. The idea is not to become mired in indecision, but rather to apply a measure of thought to the process.
To achieve our bottom line goals with our children, we must teach them that they do not need to do anything unwise to be special or conform thoughtlessly to earn acceptance.
People regardless of age have an innate need to be listened to, because it truly validates a person’s importance. If you do not provide the opportunity both at work and at home to speak freely nor the ability to question you, you are indeed training a herd of followers that could only function in the presence of dust made by someone or anyone in front of them.
As a result, consequences can often be disastrous. It was herd mentality that led 914 followers of Jim Jones to the 1978 mass suicide in Guyana. It was herd mentality and unquestioned authority that led the followers of Marshall Applewhite and his religious group Heaven’s Gate to the largest mass suicide to occur inside the U.S. The same herd mentality led the 82 followers of David Koresh to their death by fire in the Branch Davidian ranch.
So what is the proper way to exercise authority as a parent or leader of a company? The answer comes down to balancing needs – individuals, whether employees or children, have a desire to think freely, ask questions, and express themselves. The organization, whether it is a company or a family, needs order and cohesiveness.