At some point, most parents will hear their kids say, usually to a sibling, “You are not the boss of me!". For a split second, you might believe that the child has developed a bad attitude. However, if you think about it for a moment, you might realize that they are merely pointing out that someone is attempting to manage them without a license.
For example, many years ago, when my kids were younger, my daughter Gina was criticizing her younger brother Matthew for his poor grades. She pointed out that, because Matt had been spending too much time on his Xbox, it’s no wonder his grades suffered. Predictably, Matt responded, “Shut up, You’re not the boss of me.” Children do not like it when a sibling tells them what to do or gives them a lecture on things like how clean their room should be.
Similarly, sometimes managers will hear one employee tell another, who died and made you the boss? However, unlike with parenting, this is usually symptomatic of a leader who has not effectively communicated with their team. There is an old management and delegation principle that says: "responsibility must be given with sufficient authority." In other words, if you give an employee any decision-making ability that affects their co-workers, the leader must communicate this to all others who might be involved or affected.
In the same way that parents who do not clearly communicate authority risk disharmony among their children, leaders who do not clearly communicate authority between team members risk conflict among team members, as well as the team not performing as expected.
I am a big advocate of a concept known as the contract to confront, which is an agreement between two parties, usually a leader and a team member. It most vividly dawned on me when I was teaching my daughter Gina how to drive. Gina backed up out of the driveway for the very first time and began to drive onto our front lawn. I shouted, “Gina, please stop.”
Gina continued backward and further onto the lawn, and frustratingly responded, “Dad, I know, I know.” I then grabbed the wheel and said firmly, “Gina, stop! If you knew you would not be on daddy's lawn. We are now going to discuss the contract to confront.”
Gina sighed, “Dad, I hate when you use that work stuff with me.” I promptly said, “Gina, this work stuff works. I want your permission from right now whoever is sitting next to you in the passenger seat, mom or dad, your aunt, your uncle, grandma, grandpa, can give you direction and feedback if you're not doing what you should be doing.” Gina agreed, giving me peace of mind.
As we continued her driving lesson that day, I could not help but think about how the contract to confront also works in the workplace. For example, when I have a trainer and a trainee working together, I take a moment to ask the trainee if there is any reason why the trainer cannot confront them if they’re not doing what they should be doing. Then, I ask the trainer if there is any reason why the trainee would be unwelcome to ask as many questions as needed to get up to speed without judgment.
You see, what I ultimately do with the contract to confront is permit both parties to confront one another, while at the same time making sure that everyone knows who the boss in the situation is. The most effective ways to work with people are often the simplest things to do.