If you’ve ever wondered how effective a leader you really are, consider the following line:

A strong leader doesn’t command.

Can you and your staff do what needs to be done, every day, without you telling them what to do? Or, are you constantly having to check the work your staff has done, making corrections over and over again? Do you have to keep reminding people what they are supposed to be doing or telling them what they need to do next? Do you find yourself asking why it is you have to keep issuing commands?

These are really important questions to ask. Here’s why:

  1. The more you tell someone what to do, the less engaged they feel about the outcomes.
  2. The less engaged people feel about the outcomes, the less productive they become.
  3. The less productive people become, the more you have to tell someone what to do.

In this diagram, we see a representation of the problem I just described. It is called a reinforcing feedback loop. As the leader commands more, employee engagement decreases (indicated by “opposite” – as one goes up, the other goes down). As employee engagement decreases, employee productivity decreases (indicated by “same” – as one goes up the other also goes up and vice versa). As employee productivity decreases, the need for the leader to issue commands increases which, of course, results in decreasing employee engagement, and on and on…

Have you ever worked for a company like this? Where managers tell staff what to do and the staff responds by doing what they need to do to stay employed but not much more? They come in every morning, do the job, and leave every day after “putting in their eight hours.” They are disengaged employees. Disengaged employees make up nearly 55% of the workforce and cost upward of $500 billion a year in lost productivity.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a lot of potential productivity out there if you only learn how to tap into it. If you learn and use leadership skills that allow you to depend far less on commanding, you will increase employee engagement. If you increase employee engagement, you will increase employee productivity and find less need to issue commands. A reinforcing feedback loop works both ways: too much commanding and you have to issue commands all the time; but find a way to stop issuing so many commands, and you’ll eventually find you rarely need to issue a command at all.

So, how can you depend less on commanding? In this post, we’re going to discuss a couple things you can learn to do that will make a big difference.


It’s really easy to tell people what to do, the problem is that you have to keep doing it. If you want to stop commanding, one step is to help your staff understand why they are doing what they are doing – that’s called a “PURPOSE.” Purpose help staff understand the decisions that need to be made. For example, a customer service team’s PURPOSE might be to ensure that customers that have problems to report do not become detractors, putting nasty comments on Yelp! that we can never take down.


Next, help your staff define their guiding principles or VALUES. Values help staff make decisions without having to ask for permission. If you want your staff to meet date targets, define “Dependability” or “On time, all the time” as a value. If you want your staff to look for new solutions, define “Innovativeness” or “Challenge the Status Quo” as a value. As you help your workers define values, you give them guidelines for making decisions throughout the day. You can even prioritize values to help make decisions – in other words, dependability could be prioritized higher (be more important) than innovativeness.

The customer service team I talked about in the section on PURPOSE might have as its VALUES:

  • Dependability
  • Service
  • Courtesy

If we take them in order, the customer service team, whose purpose is to ensure that customers with issues are always happy with the company, also know that their number one responsibility is to be dependable: that they do what they say they are going to do. Second, they know they need to serve the customer to the best of their ability. that includes making decisions about returns and refunds. Third, they must be courteous, ensuring that even customers that just want to yell get a brief opportunity to do so before we take care of their problem. It’s not an easy job, but the VALUES combine with PURPOSE to answer a lot of “what should I do in this case?” type questions.


Next, help your staff define GOALS. Goals help your staff understand what they should be focused on every day. Goals provide direction and targets for your staff. Instead of wondering what they should be doing next, their goals should already be answering that question. You can learn more about goal setting here.

Our customer service team might have, as a goal, to achieve a minimum of 4 out of 5 99% of the time on the post-contact customer survey. The goal then serves to keep the customer service team members focused on fulfilling their PURPOSE and VALUES by giving them information on how well they are performing. Every week or two, the customer service team can come together, look at their survey results, and decide what to do based on what they learn.


Lastly, help your workers CONNECT purpose, values, and goals to their daily work. No matter how hard you try, it won’t always be immediately obvious. When you’re the manager, it’s easy to understand what your staff should be trying to accomplish — its a lot harder for your staff to do so. Sit down with them on a regular basis and talk about the work they are doing and how it connects to their purpose, values, and goals. Ask them to explain it to you (an eye-opening exercise – try it).

Expect Mistakes

Yes, your staff will make mistakes every now and then. That’s not a reason to punish, blame, or start commanding again. Remember, every single mistake is an opportunity to correct behaviors and save yourself from many mistakes later on. The first two questions you should ask are:

  1. “How can we fix it?”
  2. “What did we learn from it?”

Based on the answers, update goals, values and any related processes appropriately.

Never ask the question: “Whose fault is it?”

Expect Innovation

Once your workers start owning more of the work they are doing, they will also start suggesting innovations and improvements to how they work. Listen and coach, but let your workers decide how and if to implement suggested innovations and improvements. Remember, for you its about results. Let your workers take more and more ownership of how they get there.

What Else?

The steps I’ve outlined in this blog post can make a BIG difference in how your staff does their jobs. Here at Artisan, we’ve helped many of our customers vastly improve team productivity using these same techniques. When staff understand more about WHY (purpose), HOW (values), and WHAT (goals), they become more engaged, take more ownership, and are more productive. You’ll also find that you spend more time helping your staff be successful and far less time telling them what to do. Try it and see what happens. In fact, in the comments below, provide three things you plan to do to get started on the journey to issuing far fewer commands and creating workers that OWN their jobs.

Also, don’t be fooled that leadership skills are only for managers. At Artisan, we’ve helped many Scrum Masters learn how to use these same skills to help their teams reach higher levels of productivity and performance.

If you would like hundreds of tips and skills like the ones we’ve discussed in this blog post, you must take a look at Artisan Agility’s The Leadership Edge training system. This twelve module, intensive training system is what you need if you want to:

  • be a leader who doesn’t need to issue commands to get things done
  • create teams of workers who are fully engaged
  • leverage ALL of the abilities of your workers
  • finish more of the work only YOU can do
  • improve the culture of your organization
  • create more high-producing teams
  • create more business value, faster

The world is changing fast — your leadership skills must change as well.

The purchase of The Leadership Edge is satisfaction guaranteed. If you aren’t impressed by what you learn in the first three modules, just ask for your money back. We’ve also made it easy to pay, providing both a full one-time payment as well as six monthly payments. We’re sweetening the pot by giving you a discount code to reduce the purchase price by $200. So, its less expensive, easy to purchase, and money-back guaranteed.

Check it out. The worst that can happen is that you spend some time learning new skills, you discover the beginnings of the steps you need to take to issue fewer commands, and we send you your money back because the training system wasn’t as valuable to you as you think it should have been. The best that can happen is you learn hundreds of new skills and techniques that you can use to create highly productive, highly powerful teams, and solidify your position in your company as a strong and effective leader.