As we continue this series of lessons on leadership from Mary Parker Follett, today we will consider the giving of orders.
I first studied Follett's writing on this topic in 1977. I don't think I've ever forgotten her assertion that team members must be prepared for the receiving of orders. Today, we wouldn't think of using the word "order," but the word "direction" seems acceptable. So, we are reminded by Follett that, regardless of how proper the direction, we shouldn't send the missile without preparing those who would receive the leader's direction.
In modern language, it's not so much what we say, as it is how we say it.
Follett believed the worker has a "general disposition of antagonism toward his employer which cannot be changed by argument or exhortation." A leader must become intentional about the atmosphere of order giving. Follett wrote her theories in the midst of the industrial revolution and workers performed their trade in an atmosphere of fear and therefore, resentment.
A story is often told about the young boy who is given an order every morning to take the bucket to the well and fill it with water. The boy replies "I will not do it," but then the boy grabs the bucket handle and rushes away to pump the well. The boy resented the command but in his own way recognized the need for water. He was willing to obey the need for water but was not willing to obey the command to go fetch it.
Hidden in this story is an essential need of a worker and probably humanity—the need for self-government. Follett believed the subject of orders leads directly to a question of "authority and consent." Situations lead to inclusive conversations. The required solution moves away from "subordination" or "servility" to the demand of a clear and present need.
In a fast-paced environment the awareness of organizational needs may not come by observation. Therefore, the purpose of leadership is to expose needs and gather buy-in from the work team. Follett refers to this process as the "law of the situation." Orders are depersonalized.
The job of a leader is not to create an environment of "obeying orders," but rather to stimulate discovery of what matters most in a situation.
When we find the essence of an opportunity, the employee can provide direction to an employer and the employer provides direction to the employee. The highest and best way to prepare an employee to receive an order is to help the employee discover the need. I believe this is best achieved through the asking of questions.
"What do you think we should do with this bucket today?"
"Let those who have believing masters not despise them, because they are brothers. Instead, let them serve as slaves, because those who receive their service are faithful and beloved" (1 Tim. 6:2).
Dr. Steve Greene is the publisher and executive vice president of the media group at Charisma Media and executive producer of the Charisma Podcast Network. His book, Love Leads: The Spiritual Connection Between Your Relationships and Productivity, is now available.
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