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Best Practices: Instructing

(November 2011) posted on Tue Oct 25, 2011

How to most effectively get people to do what they're told.

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By Craig Miller

The final variable is: Did the manager require the person to check back when the task was completed? Checking back is critical. This gives the manager an opportunity to check the work. It gives them an opportunity to give praise and or constructive feedback. It brings immediacy to the process and closure to that interaction. It can become a data point that can determine if an employee is going to be in line for additional responsibilities, promotions, and raises – or whether the company needs to find someone to fill that position in the future.

Authoritarian vs. authoritative
In addition, I graded the instructor on whether he or she achieved compliance by demanding, telling, or asking. I believe the best leaders can get things done and done right most of the time by simply asking. It’s the difference between, “Go get the clothes out of the dryer,” and “Would you get the clothes out of the dryer?” Subtle, but significant.

It’s the difference between someone who is authoritarian versus authoritative. Giving an order falls into the realm of demanding people do what they are told and telling people what to do. They must follow your orders because you are the boss or the general. But an authoritarian leader is less apt to get the best out of his or her employees – because they are more likely to do only what they have to rather than what they are capable of. Nor do orders engender loyalty and respect; just fear.

An authoritative leader, however, works to earn respect and, as a result, people comply with what they are asked to do. The way the respect is earned is by demonstrating they have good reasons for everything so the requests are not arbitrary. These leaders are willing to take the time to explain, they notice what people do, and they praise when appropriate and give constructive feedback that is both fair and accurate.

An instructor’s responsibility
You might think that all these steps are fine for parents with their kids or teaching interventions addressing people with problems. But, you could argue, “We’re dealing with professional adults who are paid to do what they are told.”

Which is just what I thought when I switched careers. At first, I didn’t use these methods as much as I should have. Today, however, I find myself relying on them more everyday.

My company has excellent employees who are gifted with many skills. But if I become cavalier about telling people what to do and assume they simply somehow know what I’m talking about, it plays to the worst and not the best of our people. After all, it’s my responsibility to provide quality instructions. If those directions result in an open, respectful, and instructive dialog about the tasks at hand, so much the better. In the end, we’ll all benefit.

Craig Miller is a principal shareholder in Las Vegas-based Pictographics ( where he is also director of military and law-enforement projects, the company's defense-contracting division.