At a recent Fox News debate, presidential candidate Donald Trump briefly described his model of leadership:
"I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about."
The one thing to admire in this is the simple vigor of the language. As for the meaning contained in that language, you would be justified in doubting it. At Communispond, we’ve studied visionary leaders, strategic leaders, coaching leaders, situational leaders, transformative leaders, charismatic leaders, facilitative leaders, and crisis leaders. But, outside of autocratic organizations (which always seem to fail in the end), we have never encountered a successful model of leadership based on the principle “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”
We have been coaching leaders for several decades. We have recently turned our experience into a line of leadership programs. Believe me, you don’t need training to give orders. But without it, you would be a fool to assume those orders will be carried out just because you gave them. In fact, effective leaders don’t need to give orders. THAT’S what leadership is all about.
Effective leaders provide clear expectations, lucid priorities, consistent feedback and performance monitoring, precise direction, and timely correction. Leaders find the best in their followers and bring it to the surface. From the standpoint of a follower, implementing the leader’s will is not about carrying out orders; it is about self-fulfillment. That’s why we say effective leaders empower employees.
The “if I say do it, they’re going to do it” approach fits no one well and everyone poorly. Research confirms that effective performance coaching varies with the individual and the situation in order to maximize performance levels and maintain strong manager/employee relationships. The quality of a leader’s influence depends on their ability to be flexible in the way they coach performance. That’s what we teach in our leadership programs.
History is filled with examples of effective leadership. But if you think historic leadership moments are instances of “If I say do it, they’re going to do it,” then you’re not looking closely enough. Consider how President John F. Kennedy marshaled the will of the United States to reach the moon in a special address to Congress on May 25, 1961. First he told a story. It was the story of a worldwide struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of tyranny. He said that the only way for the forces of freedom to prevail in that struggle was to find a way to capture the imagination of the world. Then he offered a path to the achievement of that task, which was the closest he came in that speech to telling someone to do something: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving a goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
The rest, as they say, is history. But you have to wonder how well the Apollo program would have gone if John F. Kennedy believed “If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”