A Goldilocks story: A member told us about two senior managers, both honest and caring, but one uses their authority a little too much—causing disruptions and bad feelings, while another doesn’t use their authority enough—so decisions don’t get made and work stalls.

Read the Pledge of Managerial Power

Talking about ethics doesn’t mean you’re talking about someone being bad. The Pledge of Managerial Power is based on the idea that most managers were never made aware of just how much power they have over their employees.


Bob DeVita, Michele Harris, Bryon Johnson, Bill Mitchell, Valerie Renk, Derrick Van Mell

Our conversation followed the Pledge’s four test questions:

#1: AWARENESS: When was I recently reminded of the effects of my managerial power?

When people don’t speak up: If you’ve ever frightened someone—even inadvertently—with your managerial power, they might never tell you when you’re crossing the line.

Patience with delegated decisions: A senior manager related that because they were in a hurry, they fast-tracked a project task—without telling the project lead. Yes, they got it done faster, but no, that wasn’t the right thing to do. Yes, an executive can get things done faster, but no, that’s not the right expectation when you delegate. And delegation is the fundamental test of good management. People take time.

Partners and political power: One member was administrator of a large clinic, where he observed that managers often had an influential physician as a “dyad partner.” While the manager had formal authority, the expert also had the power of credibility and of influence. On one hand, it’s sensible to get wide support for a decision, but grubbing for power is just selfish politics.

Commanding attention: Managerial power isn’t just about making decisions, it’s also about commanding attention. All of the members felt that it a good use of managerial power to take people’s time to listen, reflect, learn, and teach. Requiring people to improve is good for everyone and reduces the temptation to shout, “Just do it like I told you!”

Please and thank you: One member’s spouse had worked in Germany, where everyone greeted everyone formally and shook hands every morning. Manners not only smooth out social friction, they create a pause, a short span of time for everyone to pay attention to each other.

#2: INTROSPECTION: How is being a manager making me a better person?

Thinking outside the box of me: Each of the group agreed that the hardest thing is to think about things from the employee’s perspective. Here’s a tip: Ask your staff, “How to you think about this?” (Below we mention Dale Carnegie’s Saturday journaling habit.) They might not know, but you’ll have given them permission to challenge your point of view. Good managers have empathy, the cornerstone of compassion. They naturally want to understand the other person.

Mistakes teach humility: The president of a large franchise once walked into a planning session about a deal made in one of their new regions. He said, “I really screwed that up.” (pause) “I hope we can learn from that” (pause) Then he left. Don’t think the boss can keep their inevitable mistakes secret. Show everyone that a) it’s OK to make mistakes and b) it’s essential to learn from them. Unless you never make mistakes…

Is becoming a better manager really the same as becoming a better person?

#3: APPROPRIATENESS: How have I treated people differently in similar situations?

The Platinum Rule: One participant has set a remarkably high bar for herself, which she calls the Platinum Rule, to treat others not as you’d like to be treated, but as they’d like to be treated.

How can I say thank you? One CEO formally asks every employee how they like to receive praise: in writing, electronically, in person, publicly or privately. Just being asked would make me want to do something to deserve praise!

Consistency vs. fairness: One member has hired another member’s adult child, who had a slight disability. The employee got special treatment—deviations from policy and extra attention—but everyone understood and supported it. The problem with policies is that, in the name of fairness, they can actually make it harder to treat people as individuals.

A second chance: A CEO learned when hiring a person that they’d had trouble with the law and no one would give them a chance. When our member hired them, they were so grateful that they’ve become one of the best employees. On the other hand, it takes strength, insight, and patience not to let people take advantage of kindness.

Dale Carnegie’s journaling: On page 54 of Atoms & Orchestras: The Case for Standards-Based Management, is a quotation from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People about his Saturday habit of recording his mistakes and lessons from the week, including I’m sure about how he should have treated people better.

#4: INTENTION: When did I last use my power to help an individual or group succeed?

Successful succession: A CEO in the group just started a year’s transition to their successor. It’s a carefully planned process, and the board is watching closely. Besides handing off responsibilities, it’s also about handing off authority. Like parenting, helping one’s successor means biting one’s tongue while the new person makes mistakes.

Rooting for the underdog: Everyone loves to watch the underdog win. The Center defines leadership as “inspiring people to take a risk” and people love taking on a big challenge. It is, therefore, a great way to help a group or an entire organization succeed beyond what they thought possible.

Great bosses understand the power of inspiration.

Next discussion: The Milwaukee Model of Manager Development

  1. How does your organization official define “manager” and “leader?”
  2. Which of the quadrants of the Milwaukee Model interest you most?
  3. What kind of development activity works best for your top managers?

Relevant Terms

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