Why You Shouldn’t Be a Coercive Leader

Many leaders believe that you have to crack the whip to get employees to do their jobs. They believe that most employees are not very motivated and need to be coerced in order for them to stay on task. This means being demanding and even punitive. Although this approach can get employees to comply with demands in the short run, it is not as effective as other approaches, and can have unintended negative consequences. This is why you shouldn’t be a coercive leader.

You Need Acceptance and Not Compliance

Psychologists who study how people respond to the influence of others have distinguished acceptance from compliance. Compliance occurs when an employee does what the supervisor asks for purely external reasons. The employee does not believe the request is reasonable, but he/she complies out of fear of being punished. Acceptance, on the other hand, is when an employee does what the supervisor asks for internal reasons. The employee believes that the supervisor’s request is reasonable, and what is being asked is important to do. Employees who accept the request do so because they want to, not because they have to.

Why You Shouldn’t Be a Coercive Leader

The problem with being coercive is that you might gain compliance, but you are unlikely to gain acceptance. Employees will comply out of fear of punishment, and not because they are internally motivated. This means the supervisor must continue to exert pressure, and must pay close attention to what employees are doing. Compliance occurs when the supervisor is watching, or when the supervisor will see the results. When the supervisor is not around, however, employees will not be motivated to perform, and might instead do the opposite of what the supervisor demands. Employees might give lip service to what is expected, but will often do no more than is absolutely necessary to meet the letter of what is demanded. And when the supervisor is not around, they might do things to get back at the supervisor in ways that will not be obvious.

Unintended Consequences of Coercive Leadership

Coercive leadership that relies on punishment will have unintended consequences for both employees and supervisors. A coercive environment is stressful, which has several effects on employees and ultimately organizations.

  1. Escaping the stress. Employees will cope with coercion by avoiding the situation. This might mean coming to work late, calling in sick, and quitting to find a less coercive job.
  2. Job dissatisfaction. Employees who are coerced will be unhappy at work. That unhappiness can be detected by clients or customers who will be negatively affected.
  3. Low motivation. Coerced employees will be motivated to avoid the supervisor’s wrath, but their internal motivation to perform the job will likely be low. They will do exactly what they are told, but take no initiative.
  4. Retaliation against the supervisor. Employees who feel they are being coerced will often get back at the supervisor in hidden ways. This means doing small things that might sabotage the work or undermine the supervisor. An employee might see a problem developing, but say nothing about it. At one construction site, for example, an employee ignored a warning light until a valuable machine was damaged.

A Better Way

The best way to gain acceptance is by building good working relationships with subordinates so that they perform their jobs for internal reasons and not just because they have to. This means using positive leadership approaches that focuses on four aspects of influence.

  1. Build a good working relationship. Employees will work hard to please a supervisor who they like and respect. Developing good relationships by treating employees with consideration and respect will go a long way in building internal motivation to do the job well.
  2. Empower employees. Allowing employees a reasonable amount of autonomy and control over their jobs can enhance motivation. Empowered employees take ownership over decisions they have input into, and will be motivated to see those decisions implemented successfully.
  3. Provide information. The best way to gain acceptance is to convince someone that what you are asking is important and necessary. Explaining why something needs to be done is a better approach than the ‘my way or the highway’ approach many managers adopt.
  4. Reward employees. Rewarding good work encourages employees to continue their efforts. Rewards do not have to be financial—praise and recognition are free, but they can go a long way toward encouraging people. Everyone wants to know that what they do is important and has impact on the world. Praise from the supervisor sends the message that there has been positive impact.

Positive approaches to leadership can create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Expecting employees to be motivated and treating them as if they are, will usually lead to good results.

 Photo by Lukas from Pexels

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