Tyrants in the Making: ‘I’ll Just Make Them Do It’

In my MBA program, I was fortunate to have a practicing psychologist teach a course on management.

He used a variety of teaching methods, but one in particular involved discussing and debating case studies. The case studies would present this or that management challenge and we would each present and discuss our solution.

When we first started, we were surprised at how easy it was to solve these supposed management dilemmas. We’d confidently explain how we would address these issues and most of the class would agree. “I’ll just make them do this or that.” “I’ll just make them get along and work together.” Often our “solutions” involved the word “make” or one of its many derivatives.

Whatever action, we would just make our employees do it. Compulsion sounded so straightforward and easy. That way of thinking didn’t last long. The professor would constantly ask, “And how will you make them do that?” A simple sounding question, with profound implications. Think about the question. How will you make them do that?

Just how do you make an employee do anything? For many people, the quick retort would be, “Well, if they didn’t do as I say, I’d just fire them.” IJFT. One quickly discovers that this mindset—which is almost universal with the “I’m the boss” viewpoint—almost always immediately leads to IJFT.

The professor wouldn’t allow us dance about this point; it is almost magical thinking to believe you can “make” an employee do anything and this professor didn’t allow magical thinking in his classroom. The genuine solutions were much more difficult, much more detailed, and seldom had an easy answer, if they had an answer at all. We quickly learned to erase this magical thinking from our repertoire. The class was one of the most valuable I have ever taken.

Sadly, most new and even many seasoned managers start with a force-based mindset and retain it throughout their careers. But your box of managerial tools must hold more than a stick if you want to develop into a great manager and leader. By the very nature of the employment agreement, all employees understand their boss can fire them—it is a given. Constantly reminding your employees of this fact does little to motivate them. In fact, in most cases it does just the opposite. Threats and intimidation generally do not make for good leadership.

What I just described is the mindset of a great many politicians. When I listen to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and many others political “leaders” describe their policy proposals, I am taken back to that management class.

Ocasio-Cortez sounds like a green MBA student. Everything is soooo easy. When I listen to her, what I hear in effect is, “Why were those people before me so stupid? This is simple!”

The freshman congresswoman from the Bronx offers solutions that boil down to “I’ll make them do this.” Remember what Ocasio-Cortez said when she got pushback on her Green New Deal? “I’m the boss. How about that?”

Every tyrant, whether in the workplace or the government, with the thought “I’ll make them do it.” At least in business, the worst that can happen is a person gets fired. In government, the mentality can lead to death on a massive scale.

In business, IJFT becomes the ultimate tool. In politics the ultimate tool is at the end of a gun.

Listen to Ocasio-Cortez and her cohort of leftist activists and “democratic socialists.” They are tyrants in the making. If they had the power, they would surely use it. From the gulags of Stalin’s Soviet Union to killing fields of Khmer Rouge Cambodia, from Mao’s cultural revolution to the Islamic revolution in Iran, from the socialist workers’ “paradises” of North Korea and Cuba and Venezuela, the road to tyranny begins with “I’ll just make them . . .” Can’t happen here? Don’t be so certain.

Most new managers misunderstand what the job means. Most focus on the position’s rights and privileges—not its duties.

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, not haranguing others about your organizational power. Or using your power as an elected official in an attempt to compel people behave and think as you see fit.

The road to tyranny might be paved with good intentions but it does not lead to them. We must remember tyranny lurks in many hearts, whether pretty young women or grizzled old men. We forget this at our peril.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

About John Conlin

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change. He is also president and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world primarily through K-12 education.

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