Mind your W’s and C’s with your staff

By Rich Lindblom, Contributor

  • Dictators dictate.
  • Rulers rule.
  • Oppressors oppress.
  • Leaders lead.
  • Teachers teach.
  • Preachers preach.

Which one best describes you? What is your leadership style? Take some time to really think about which personality type you really are because it’s critically important to your company’s long-term success.

Look, there are an endless different ways to lead a company. But I can tell you with 100% certainty that people would much rather work for one the last three types of leaders than the first three.  

Sure, it’s your company and you can run it any way you want. So if you want to be a tyrannical dictator, that’s your prerogative. After all, your employees really only have two choices: Do your bidding or find a new job. 

The problem is that if you’re a dictator, a ruler or an oppressor, the odds are pretty good that you have a whole lot of unhappy employees and a bad company culture. One quick and easy test is employee turnover. If you have a high amount of employee turnover, it’s a sure sign of trouble and you should probably look at the top of your company’s organizational flow chart. Whether you want to admit it or not, your company’s culture starts at the top and flows downward from there.  

Let’s all take a real simple test that will help you figure out if you are a leader or a dictator. I call it the W&C test and here’s how it works: Do you ask your employees to do things or order them to do things?  It’s a very subtle difference and it’s all in the choice of letters. Words that start with the letter “w” are typically requests, whereas words that start with the letter “c” are orders. Sound crazy? Try it.  

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes for a moment as you make these two similar but totally differentrequests:

Would you take out the garbage? Could you take out the garbage?

Which one sounds like a polite ask and which one sounds like a command they have no choice but to follow? OK, how about this pair:

Will you take out the garbage? Can you take out the garbage?

It’s the same kind of thing; one sounds like a question and the other sounds like an order. Like I said, it may be subtle but it’s there and perception is everything. When speaking to employees or one of your customers for that matter, think about not only what you saybut how you are saying it, because your choice of words matters far more than you may think. Because deep down everyone would like to be treated with respect, no matter what their situation in life is. It doesn’t matter if they are janitor, a salesperson, a delivery person or the night watch person. No one wants to be told what to do. Given the choice (and even if they can’t actually refuse), everyone would prefer to be asked to do something.  

So, the real question is, if you are able to accomplish the same result without unconsciously offending your employees, why wouldn’t you do it? There is no downside, so at least give it a try.

And please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to suck up to your employees. If you did that you wouldn’t be leading at all. Instead you’d be following their lead. I just want you to realize that they are your employees, not your servants or subjects. They can choose to work anywhere they want and they have chosen to work for you.

So, if you want happy, productive, long-term employees, I suggest you start using w’s instead of c’s and try to be more of a leader and less of a ruler.

Rich Lindblom is a past principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance in Schaumburg, Ill., and now shares his 40-plus years of retail experience with BrandSource members as product manager for AVB’s SYNC point-of-sale system and as a columnist for YSN. You can reach Rich at rich.lindblom@avb.net.

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