Are You the Boss?

“When you run General Electric,” CEO Jeffrey Immelt said, “there are 7 to 12 times a year when you have to say, ‘you’re doing it my way.’ If you do it 18 times, the good people will leave. If you do it 3 times, the company falls apart.” (New York Times, 6/9/07)

Some of us are confused, both at work and at home, about which decisions are open for debate, and which aren’t.

When my son was little, he often heard everything I said as a discussion. The statement, “Go to Bed Right Now—Before I Call The POLICE!” was, for my son, simply an opening gambit.

Announcements are different from discussions; they should look, sound, and feel different.

Firing someone is an announcement. You wouldn’t say, “George, suppose, just for argument sake, we asked you to turn in your badge, pack up your desk, and get the hell out of here—would that be terribly inconvenient?”

One night, I told my son, in no uncertain terms, to go upstairs and brush his teeth. I thought it was an announcement. But he stood his ground: “You are not the boss of me,” he said.

“Who is the boss of you?” I wondered. Maybe I could call that person for advice.

And yet, I wasn’t overly concerned. Bedtime struggles, I figured, fell into the category of problems that solve themselves. This issue would disappear with age and maturity.

My wife was dubious: “Age and maturity? How much older do you need to be?” The problem, she implied in a very subtle, “Why are you not getting this, you idiot?” sort of way, was with me. I needed to be more of a boss.

Fair enough. And so, as I aged and matured, I grew more comfortable with authority. Eventually, I was able to get my son to bed without even mentioning the police.

Tip: Use your authority sparingly, but when you make an announcement, be clear: this decision is non-negotiable.

© Copyright 2016 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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