The Dilemma of Mandates

You might not be aware that the word manage comes from the Latin root manus, which means hand. Quick translation – managers handle things. On the other hand, the root of leadership means to go, guide, or travel. Leaders take people places. Quite a difference, even at the root level.

Why do I mention this? Well, there is another word with manus at its root that is making a lot of noise today. It is our old friend (or perhaps current nemesis) Mandate. From the root translation – something given by hand, mandate is frequently defined in everyday language as something commanded.

During the past month, there has been plenty of controversy about the issuing of vaccine mandates. If you are wondering why there is so much angst about them, remember this. It is hard for people to feel inspired and led, when they are being mandated – or commanded – to do something. The heels just seem to dig in a little deeper when options are taken away, even with those who agree with the purpose of the mandate.

For decades, organizations have been moving away from command-and-control management systems and more toward empowering leadership environments. The reason is that when being led vs. commanded, people generally produce better results and report much higher levels of satisfaction and fulfillment. People do not like, or want to be micro-managed and constantly told what they have to do.

Today, however, it seems that mandates are back in vogue. Think about how many conversations in which you have been involved, during just the last month, about mask or vaccine mandates. And regardless of your own personal position, you have likely heard some controversy, if not outright anger about them.

So as a leader, you must keep this thought in mind. Mandates can and often do remind people of being over controlled. And because of the natural resistance to being controlled by someone or something else, the reason for a mandate, sadly, can get lost. They focus more on their dislike for receiving a “thou shalt order” than they do on the actual purpose or value of the order itself. And as you already know, it is much harder to get people inspired about something they have to do, rather than something they want to do.

As you continue to wrestle with the powder kegs of vaccine and mask mandates in your work environments, remember to provide some leadership along the way. Never settle for mandating something just because you can. Ask yourself this very important question. What must I do as a leader to move people toward “wanting” to comply with the mandate, rather than simply giving them an ultimatum of getting on the train or going elsewhere?

A couple of things you can do: keep people informed as much as you can. Continue to stress why the mandate is important – for the common good and especially for themselves as individuals. Show patience, empathy, and understanding to those who are resisting. And keep searching to find the reason why others will want to honor what you feel you must demand of them.

At this moment, your leadership is both sorely needed, and being truly tested. Accept the fact that there will be some tough conversations. Have them anyway. Recognize that some people will continue to refuse to get on board. Remember that they are still worthy of dignity and respect, as you deal with them. Know that the trust which others have in you, senior management, or the overall company will dwindle a bit. That comes with fear and uncertainty, which unfortunately seem quite abundant these days. And finally, don’t hesitate to reach out to others you trust for advice, reassurance, or to challenge your own thinking. That kind of coaching will help you be your best, which is what others most need from you right now.

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