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Volume 15, Issue 22;   June 3, 2015: Just Make It Happen

Just Make It Happen

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Last updated: August 8, 2018

Many idolize the no-nonsense manager who says, "I don't want to hear excuses, just make it happen." We associate that stance with strong leadership. Sometimes, though, it's little more than abuse motivated by ambition or ignorance — or both.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930s

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. Using only the methods of nonviolent civil disobedience, he led the people of India to independence. His leadership has since inspired successful movements for civil rights and freedom worldwide. The apparent impossibility of achieving the goal of Indian independence, and other goals subsequently achieved by others employing Ghandi's tactics, probably accounts for some of our belief in the effectiveness of nonviolent civil disobedience. The photo, which dates to the 1930s, is courtesy Wikipedia.

Senior managers and executives — organizational leaders — have two primary responsibilities. They must clearly define objectives for the people they lead, and they must ensure that those people have the resources needed to achieve those objectives. To carry out these responsibilities appropriately, organizational leaders must respect the humanity of all stakeholders, including the people of the organization (often called employees), the people the organization serves (often called customers), and the people who supply goods and services to the organization (often called suppliers). They all have personal lives. They all deserve respect as people.

And that's where trouble sometimes appears. Leaders who adopt the just-make-it-happen stance can sometimes fail to respect the humanity of the people they're leading. Consequently, their subordinates work killing hours, often breaking rules to "make it happen." Customers then must accept inferior products, delivered late, while suppliers lose money trying to please their unpleaseable customer.

Why does this happen?

In many organizations we gauge the strength of leaders according to the gap between the goals the leaders expect employees to achieve, and what those people believe they can achieve. When people achieve something few believed was possible, we tend to credit the leader. One exemplar of strong leader, among many others, is Mohandas K. Ghandi, who provided the people of India a means of achieving a goal most thought impossible.

Here are three mechanisms that incline organizational leaders to adopt the just-make-it-happen stance.

Pathological ambition
In striving to be When people achieve something few
believed was possible, we tend to
credit the leader, not the people
regarded as strong leaders, some managers and executives arrange for large gaps between the objectives they set, and what people generally believe is readily achievable. They set goals that are extremely aggressive relative to the time and resources available. They hope that when the objectives are ultimately met, everyone will recognize the "strength" of their "leadership."
Pressure from above
Even managers and executives report to somebody — higher-level executives, the Board of Directors, or shareholders. When they feel pressure to fulfill commitments they've made, or commitments forced upon them, they sometimes choose not to resist that pressure. Transmitting that pressure onto their organizations can seem much safer and easier.
Ignorance
Some organizational leaders don't realize that they've set unrealistic or unrealizable objectives. Equally naïve peers might support them in their ignorance. When their subordinates tell them that the goals are unachievable or extremely risky, they regard the messengers as weak or lazy or worse. Attempts to educate such leaders are unlikely to succeed.

Surely there are more mechanisms than these three.

If you're being led by a just-make-it-happen kind of leader, I hope this exploration has opened some doors to understanding. If you are yourself a just-make-it-happen kind of leader, perhaps you can listen to the people you lead, and then examine your approach to leadership. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Perils of Limited Agreement  Next Issue

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