I went to two graduations recently, one high school and one college. In both cases, the authorized speaker requested that people withhold their applause, not use noise makers, and stay at their seats until the graduates were finished leaving in procession. In both graduations, people refused to follow directions, disrupting the solemnity of the occasion and making it chaotic, unfair, and disorderly. I had the strangest temptation to follow suit and cheer for my child who was graduating. Of course it would be fun to yell and celebrate with my girl right then. Who wouldn’t want to? I can see that respecting authority is not something greatly prized in our society as a whole. I wondered,
Why should we follow the leader?
Why should my teen do work for his boss that he won’t get paid much for, when there is “nothing in it for me”? Why should my child do his homework when he’d much rather play? Why should I stay quiet in the stands when I’d rather cheer at my daughter’s graduation? In a purely personal perspective, that is completely focused on the present moment, there may be no reason at all.
A group perspective reveals why respect for authority is so critical, why it matters, and how it highly determines success. Although our society seems to idealize characters like Captain Kirk from Star Trek who bend the rules and always seems to come out on top, real success is a team venture. We work with those that work with us. Hot shots that don’t support the leader and are seeking personal notoriety or privilege and even those that only see their own needs and not the needs of the group are eventually squeezed out or left behind. In families or schools, where a rebellious or disrespectful child can not be left out, they are endured. Success is not just being endured. It is stressful to all parties. Group success usually requires many people following directions and supporting the leader. We must unite and coordinate to be more effective and powerful, and we can’t do that if everyone is fighting internally.
What if I don’t agree?
What our bosses or teachers ask us to do will certainly not always be fun, convenient, easy, or desired. It takes a bigger picture to see and evaluate what is more important. Is it more important that we all keep moving forward, or is it more important for me to make a stand and fight on this point? Some things are worth fighting for. We should not be expected to do immoral or wrong things because someone in authority asked us to. We should not be asked to do harmful things. Even with these exceptions, I can’t expect to always agree with any leader. We are each thinking individuals entitled to our own opinions.
However, in most cases, the most important job in the whole organization may be the one you are trusted with, even the seemingly most menial or disliked chore, because it has to be done and the group is counting on you to do it. When employees cause friction by not willingly working to meet expectations and to follow directions, it is like a strong soldier who has a huge, festering blister on his heel. That friction can bring the whole organization to a halt or make it very ineffective. “Winning” is a team sport. As part of that team, I can be expected to pull my load with a decent attitude in spite of differences of opinions.
Relationships are complex.
Understanding the dynamics of relationships can be very difficult because they are invisible and complicated. For example, when a husband and wife are in business together, there are many different relationships within their relationship. There is the personal relationship, where they are equal and friends. There is the work relationship where one spouse may be the boss. They may be parents together which makes them both bosses that need to support and take turns helping each other. In this way, our different roles can create many different relationships with the very same person.
Is it any wonder that we get confused or take offense at times in our relationships? There is task-oriented talk, which is very focused on “getting it done right.” There is people-oriented talk, which is very personal, focused on developing mutual trust and knowing others and being known and accepted by others. I recently discovered a third purpose of speech that I will call hierarchy-maintenance. This is team talk. It is a way we speak that reinforces the roles that we agree to within a group. Its purpose is to reaffirm our team role relationships and to help us quickly unite and work together.
For example, even a simple thing like how we ask for help has invisible relationship messages. A command, “go wash the dishes” is not just asking someone to wash the dishes. It asserts that the speaker is the leader and has the right to direct the activities of the other in this way. It is an embedded relationship message. If I say, “the dishes need to be done, whose turn is it to do them?” I might indicate some leadership authority, but also an equality in the shared responsibility. Or, I could say, “I am unusually busy today, would you do the dishes for me today?” This request shows a responsibility for the dishes and a team approach to be sure they are done in spite of my inability to complete my chore. It also indirectly implies a reciprocal willingness to “sub” when someone else on the team is in a similar bind. While all of these examples could be considered task-oriented talk, they also communicate nuances that are important to team functioning.
Relationships are also simple.
“..Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand:” –Matthew 12:25
Are you on the team? That is the ultimate question. Are you for or against? Are you a friend or a foe? If we agree to support our leaders, if we cooperate and respect authority, we are “on the team.” If we fight, argue, mumble, withhold our best efforts, or gossip and complain, why are we surprised if our leaders respond in frustration, anger, or dismay? If it is unclear whether we agree to support someone as the leader, the loyalty that is required for safe and effective relationships is called into question. Leaders feel they must babysit or micromanage the rebels who are in fact a threat to the effectiveness of the team. Unsteady followers may feel picked on, mistreated, and humiliated or punished without understanding the reason why. It really is simple if you can see that the foundation of any relationship is trust and agreement. (Even if that agreement is to agree to disagree.)
In most groups there are more followers than leaders. This is important so that we can unite larger and larger groups. So, it stands to reason that to be a leader, we must learn to be a good follower. We must learn how to respond willingly to our leaders’ directions and expectations in general. A leader who can count on that much support from a follower knows where his or her loyalty lies. His or her leadership is not challenged, but upheld. From this position of trust and mutual agreement, a leader is often very open to listening to suggestions when spoken by a true, known friend.
Am I in the choir?
I thought about the graduation again. It would take total agreement of all in the hall to avoid cheering and noisemakers. Even one person going against the leader’s directions disturbs all. All can be distracted by the one who will not cooperate. A strong leader is not strong because they are individually mighty, they are strong because we agree to act in unison with them. Without that bond, the one can selfishly spoil the progress of the whole. I don’t want to be that important. But, when I think about it, it is amazing to realize, each of us is that important.
There is a popular song that says, “I might only have one match, but I can make an explosion.” Our local McDonalds was leveled in one day. I can’t help thinking how easy it is to destroy. One word can tear down. How will I use my one, powerful match?
In a choir, each voice matters. The group agrees to follow the lead of the chorister even if they could lead differently or better. It doesn’t matter who leads, as long as the group follows. Each person is not required to lose their own voice in order to blend into the choir. Each voice matters. Because the performance is ruined by any one person who will not blend to meet the notes, or breathe, pause or begin on cue, the whole depends on the one, every one.
Respecting our leaders does not disregard the importance of the individual, it honors it.
DarEll S. Hoskisson
DarEll S. Hoskisson loves to do hard things, but not too hard. She shares her own challenges, goals and experiences as she guides you into a realistic path of self-reflection and self-improvement. She shares tips on how to find, know and trust yourself so you can decide if other’s suggestions are right for you. DarEll has the world a little upside down—where work is play and play is work. She actually thinks other people’s problems are fun to try to solve and lights up with a personal challenge. She loves people, harmony, and excellence. She also loves useful things like tools and ideas that make work faster, easier and more fun. DarEll married in 1993 and graduated from BYU (1995) with a bachelor’s degree in English and Secondary Education. Since then she was adopted by 5 children and has worked with many non-profits. She is currently a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor—leading pilates and yoga at her local YMCA. DarEll lives in Florida where she enjoys her family, nature, her work, and encouraging people to live well. She periodically posts her poems, what she is learning, and service opportunities on her personal blogs: https://personalabridgements.wordpress.com and https://darellhoskisson.wordpress.com