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Should you ever “pull rank” as a leader?

My client Liang asked me an interesting question the other day.

“Vanessa, is there ever a time as a leader where I can just ‘pull rank?’”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “pull rank” means using the power your position gives you over someone in order to make them do what you want.

My short answer to this question is no!

Let me explain.

As a parent, I “pull rank” on my kids all the time. Why? Well at 17 and 14 years old, I am responsible for their health and well-being. If I didn’t limit their screen time, for example, they would play video games 24 hours a day. They wouldn’t eat, sleep, or go to school!

However, in the workplace, our colleagues are adults. No matter how hard you try, you cannot force an adult to do what you want them to do.

This is why 80% of change initiatives fail.

If people don’t see the need to change, they won’t! Plus, if you do “pull rank,” your team will regard you as a drill sergeant and become disengaged very quickly.

So, what can you do if a decision needs to be made but the people on your team are unable to come to a consensus? Often, our tendency is to “pull rank” and make the decision for everyone.

Instead of following that urge, here is a process that I suggest you implement:

  • Step 1: Identify the issue
  • Step 2: As a team, brainstorm possible solutions to the issue
  • Step 3: Each team member votes on their top three solutions
  • Step 4: Do a pros and cons list for the three most popular solutions
  • Step 5: Vote on the best option moving forward. Ensure people commit to their roles and responsibilities to implement that solution expediently.

While using a collaborative approach might take a bit longer up front, the result down the road is far more effective.

When a decision is made collaboratively, the buy-in is there and people move into action quickly.

Conversely, when a solution is dictated to people, the tendency to resist, stall, and avoid action is most common.

So, go back to your goal. If it is to develop a high-trust, collaborative team environment, I think you’ll agree that building consensus is far more effective than “pulling rank.”

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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