Why People Don’t Do What You Say


Sometimes, we forget how much influence leaders have.  And as leaders, we often leave much of that influence completely unused.  It’s easy to get so focused on the outcome we want, that we miss the opportunity to help someone actually make a change that’s best for the business and also for them.

Consider every conversation we have, meeting we lead, and interaction in which we are involved.  Those events will either have a positive impact, a negative impact, or no impact on the others involved.  Every exposure to us ends in one of those three possibilities.   How we choose to have our conversations largely determines which one of those outcomes happen.  How many times do we deliver a message or have a conversation that, while focused clearly on what we wanted others to do differently, actually has no impact, or even a negative impact on what they actually do?

One of the things that I’ve seen most great leaders focus on is the impact they have from the other person’s point of view, not their own.  More often than not, we are intensely focused on what we want to say or get off our chest or make sure they hear from us. That’s only natural, especially if we are the one initiating the conversation.  We might have been thinking about all the stuff they were messing up for days or even weeks.  What we are less focused on is how we help them think differently, draw a different conclusion or consider an alternative solution.  We also usually miss the opportunity to learn something about why they are choosing their current set of actions.

Lately as I work with leaders, I’ve been consciously listening for phrases that change conversations and help leaders communicate and lead differently.  One of the most destructive phrases I hear during a coaching session is “you need to”, which  focuses solely on the communicator’s wants.  Some examples I’ve heard recently are  “you need to be more responsible” or “you need to find a way to get it done”.  When was the last time any of us changed behavior because someone else thought we needed to without us being in agreement?  And how often does someone else telling us that we need to do something positively impact our commitment to getting that thing done?

Some bosses think that because they have the job and the title, that people should simply do what they tell them to.  It’s a nice little fantasy but ultimately people decide what they are going to do based on their own beliefs about what they should do.  It’s far too simplistic to believe that, as a boss, we can alter their convictions simply by flexing our authority.

Many times, when working with managers I hear the comment “why won’t they just do what I tell them to”.  If they did, would we really want them in our business?  That would mean that we had hired people who couldn’t think for themselves, weren’t accountable for anything, and were content to let all responsibility lie squarely on whoever is at the top.  Unless you are truly smart enough to have all of the answers, that’s a recipe for disaster.  And even though I’ve met many managers who believe they are infallible, I’ve yet to meet one who is.

How you communicate, the questions you ask, and the collaboration you cause is the source of your influence.  It’s the way you help people get better at what they do.  And that’s far more important than having them do what you say.  Despite the fact that many managers work on expanding their control, influence is what really matters.  People leave interactions with you either positively or negatively influenced.  The choice on how they leave, and to some degree what they do next,  is yours.

Leading Through Influence

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