Ari on Business

It’s OK for employees to say no

Excerpted from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Part 2: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Being a Better Leader

From the outside in we need to encourage others—especially those who aren’t accustomed to working this way— to make conscious choices about what they’re doing, or not doing. Part of that means that we need to respect that others will make choices we won’t particularly like. This is inherent in encouraging people to be themselves and telling them to speak up for what they believe. Which is, I know, far easier said than done. Being a hardass is a tough habit to break; the traditional work world is all based on the belief that “we’re paying these people, of course they’re going to do what we tell them to.” The idea of letting staff say “no” in a constructive manner, where they’re not immediately stomped on for saying so, is something we spelled out sixteen or so years ago when we wrote up the stuff we teach today in our training. But it’s not the norm most places. Performance may be poor, discussions may be difficult, and employment may ultimately end anyways, but dialogue, respect and fair treatment never need to go away because someone opted not to do what we would have liked them to. Without a doubt, this approach is certainly easier to adopt intellectually than it is to really implement (believe me—wait ‘til the first employee politely tells you to take a hike) . . . but, I believe, from the bottom of my very hard-working heart, it’s imperative to growing the kind of caring, creative (anarcho capitalist) community we’re going after.

The way I see it, anarcho-capitalism in action is always based on each of us exercising free will and free choice. It is built onto a foundation of freely made, mindful choices. Quite simply, as a few of my friends are probably sick of me saying, none of us have to do anything. If we do it, we do it because—mindfully or not—we choose to do it, not because someone else “made us.” Though, I’d venture to guess that’s not the way most businesses seem to operate. “Compulsion” is the most common motivational tool.

This ever-present, if generally unacknowledged, sense of compulsion is, by the way, all over our everyday language. Take ten minutes at the next meeting you go to and count how many times someone says, “I have to,” “I can’t” or “I should.” There’s a lot of power floating around those tables, but when we’re talking like that the power is noticeably not inside of us. Feeling “forced” to do things is simply never a good feeling. No one—and no organization we’re a part of—is going to get to greatness unless each of us reclaims it and owns it in a grounded, caring, and mindful way.