One of the fallacies that seems to obsess many managers is the notion that it is important to regularly let their subordinates know who’s boss. I ask, do they really think their subordinates are so stupid that they need reminding? In all my years of organizational life, I never lost sight of who my boss was; it was he or she charged with the responsibility of evaluating my performance, influencing my pay decisions, and helping to determine whether I kept my job.
Managers carry titles that establish them as “designated authorities” in their organizations with specific levers of control over their subordinates. Consequently, the manager-subordinate relationship is inherently one of unequal power. Although as adults most of us would rather work in partnerships with others where power is shared and all parties have the right to say “no”, we accept the manager-subordinate relationship as an essential component of organizational employment. But our acceptance is easily strained when the boss seems intent on constantly reminding us who’s in charge.
Thomas Paine famously proclaimed “that government is best which governs least”. One may choose to differ with Mr. Paine politically but the best managers in my experience seemed to intuitively understand that they managed best by displaying and exercising their authority only when absolutely required.
What the best managers know is that the less they act like the boss the more their authority and influence grows. The less they exercise their own inherent power, the more potential they have to make those around them feel powerful in pursuit of organizational goals. The less they stress the differences between themselves and their subordinates, the more respect for their authority they gain.
There are times when the boss must act like the boss: make a difficult decision; mete out discipline; lead their subordinates in adapting to an unwelcome change. Failure to do so confuses subordinates and undermines organizational performance. But the best managers recognize that day-to-day all employees manage some essential component of organizational success. They also understand that given clear expectations — the what needs done and the quality required — the more freedom and your trust your subordinates have to carry out their responsibilities as their particular strengths dictate, the better they are likely to perform.
So act like the boss when you must; but only when you must.