Leaders: Treat Them Like Adults and Watch What Happens

Babies at Work

What is it about management that turns some good managers into nannies? Sometimes the role of a manager or team leader has morphed into something resembling a hall monitor.

The problem is this: The more the restriction, the greater the tendency to rebel.

A Chemical Reaction

Just like in history, any dictator is often undermined by a coordinated resistance. Therefore, tightly controlling your employees and putting restrictions on them may very well lead to employees that are looking to get around the system. Why?

Oftentimes human nature follows the laws of physics,

“To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction” – Sir Isaac Newton

Are there employees that will try to take advantage of the system were other people comply? Of course there will be. There are some people who simply want to get away with doing the least amount of work possible.

But this is not the norm, unless that’s the type of environment created. Yes, that type of distrustful environment doesn’t just happen, it’s created.

Rules Glorious Rules

Recently, I worked with a team that was challenged with its performance. The manager was certain that her employees needed to be to highly controlled because they could not be trusted. She told me about an employee that she monitored the start and end times of his day very closely.

Why do you do that?” I asked.

She said, “Because he sometimes comes in late and leaves early. So now, I have demanded that he comes in no later than nine and leaves no earlier than five.

Has that made him or the team more effective?” I asked.

I’m not sure,” she responded.

After interviewing the employee, I learned that he would often stay very late and sometimes come in very early to get projects done. He thought that it was really important to make sure that he met deadlines and milestones to make sure that projects were completed on time.

However, every time he left early his manager would question why he was not working a “full-day.”

No matter how many times he showed her that he had come in early or worked over the weekend or worked very late the day before, she would tell him that leaving early wasn’t fair to everyone else who was working on “full day” schedule.

She kept demanding that he was at his desk at nine and stay at least until five o’clock. He finally stopped coming in early or staying late, concluding, “If she wants me to work eight hours every day that I will, no more and no less.

Creating an Environment of Trust

Like any healthy relationship, leaders and teams have to work in an environment where trust is high. This only happens if the relationship is an adult one.  Adults look for a few key elements in relationships:


This is not about treating everyone exactly the same. Instead, consistency is about reacting to situations in a similar way regardless of who’s involved. It is important to adults that they don’t have to guess how the person they’re talking to is going to react.

Without consistency people tend to act in a way that is the least likely to “get them in trouble”, which often has people be guarded and defensive. There is little trust without consistency.

Trust is built with consistency.” ~ Lincoln Chafee


Nothing is worse than feeling like you don’t know what is going on in your workplace.  When employees are surprised about issues, problems or concerns there is little room for trust. It is imperative to make sure that employees know as much as possible.

The principles of radical transparency improve business performance in terms of focus, engagement, and growing and recruiting talent.” ~ Ryan Smith and Golnaz Tabibnia


Giving an employee the latitude, authority and responsibility to complete the responsibilities of a job is not only a great way to treat an adult, it is good for business.

Autonomous motivation has proven to generate higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being.” ~ Chad Renado

Everyone is Accountable

There is a caveat though with this approach.  There has to be accountability from top to bottom.  The team members, managers and leaders all have to be held accountable for their actions, successes and failures.  It has to be known and acceptable to

  • Reward well when goals are met and teams are successful.
  • Give nothing or take action when they are not.

It is not about firing people, but making sure that each person makes their very best effort to reach and exceed personal, team and organizational goals.

“Greater accountability eliminates the time and energy spent in unproductive behavior that produces wasted effort and confusing distractions.  Everyone is clear about what they are responsible to accomplish and take action to make that happen.” ~ The Oz Principle

Treating employees like adults frees them up to do great things and create results not thought possible.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. ~ George S. Patton

Are you surprised by your team’s awesome results and accomplishments?  What kind of environment are you creating?


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Anil Saxena
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web | Blog | (888) 999-0940 x-730

Image Sources: 3.bp.blogspot.com

L2L Contributing Author