‘Because I said’ leadership

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Phil Parker
  • 721st Communications Squadron commander
So, I have a confession to make ... I watch the ABC television series, "Once Upon A Time." This is not on purpose, however. I blame my wife and daughter -- that's how I got sucked in.

For those of you not familiar with the series, I'll sum up the plot line. The series is about the town of "Storybrooke" and its inhabitants. Due to a curse, all of the fairytale characters were sent to Storybrooke, and they resumed life as someone else, with no memory of who they were in Fairytale land. There are many recurring characters on this show, but I'll focus on two particular characters: Mary Margaret (Snow White) and Regina (The Evil Queen, also the mayor of Storybrooke). As most good fairytales go, this series presents the viewer with many examples of the struggles between good and evil, and often end with a moral of the story to consider.

A recent episode struck a chord with me on the challenges of different leadership styles and how ineffective it can be for a leader to say "do it because I said to." In this particular episode, the scene was set in Fairytale land where Regina, as the evil queen, was in disguise as a peasant and witnessed the townspeople playing a game that involved throwing an arrow at an effigy of her, in an effort to see who could get closest to the heart. Seeing this "game" take place, she questioned out loud, "Why does everyone hate me and love Snow White?"

Obviously, much of the reasoning has to do with the battle of good over evil, but one can also argue that Regina's leadership style had a tremendous negative effect on those around her. After all, many of the same traits recognized in an autocratic leader are mirrored in an effective leader who garners the input of those they lead and builds positive relationships and trust with subordinates and peers. Regina wanted those she led, the people of Storybrooke and the people of Fairytale land, to follow her and listen to what she said because she demanded it; because she said so.

When she got the opportunity to see what her subordinates truly thought of her leadership style, she was surprised by the results. On the other hand, Snow White's ability to relate to the townspeople and truly listen to what they had to say went farther to build the trust and teamwork essential for successful leadership than all of the magical powers and emphatic orders that Regina could throw out.

All peers and subordinates in any effective organization understand that there are times when leaders issue orders or directives that must be complied with "just because." I'll argue that truly effective leaders keep those to an absolute minimum and have already built the rapport necessary with their subordinates so that they know it's a "must-do;" they know their leader has exhausted all possible options taking into account the information provided from the field, and they just do it and move on.

What's the moral to this story? Effective leaders at all levels make tough decisions on a day-to-day basis concerning the orders they give to their subordinates. If you are in one of these positions, be sure to truly understand your townspeople, have their best interests at heart, listen to all sides of the argument, make them understand that there are times when they'll just have to do what's asked of them, and lead. Developing positive leader-subordinate relationships and trust will hopefully protect you from many of the arrows of doubt or disdain aimed your way.