Because I Said So is Not Leadership

by Alli Polin on February 8, 2013

because i said so is not leadership
One year, at annual process time, a Partner in the Firm asked the HR team to jump through some big hoops on our sprint to some marathon laddering meetings.  It wasn’t that he asked us to change our process that was the problem, it was the way he did it.

“I don’t care what it takes or how much work it is.  This is the way I see it: You’re HR.  I don’t care if you sleep at the office just like teachers sleep at the school.  Just make it happen.  You have no life other than this.”

Well, on one hand, he was right.  The HR team did have limited time to invest in other endeavors given the intensity of the annual process.  On the other hand, he was 100% wrong.  Every single person on the HR team had a robust life outside of the office.  A life that was moving forward without our presence.

How many times do senior leaders bully and belittle key team players by pulling out the “because I said so” card?  Trust me, the HR team wanted to do our very best.  All of us knew deep in our guts how important the process was to the organization.  Most of all, we knew how seriously we were taking our responsibility as advocates for the people in the process.  His terse and nasty comment didn’t inspire us to work harder, if anything, it made us want to engage with him less.

Leaders, dump the “because I said so!”  If you really want what’s best for the organization and customers, your job is to motivate, inspire and engage, not belittle, push, nag or demand.

Here’s the Facts (and what I said in the pretend rant I was silently carrying on in my head):

A bigger title doesn’t make you better than me

Titles tell us about spans of responsibility, not who’s a more valuable human being.

We all have a purpose, don’t stomp on mine to elevate yours

HR, the COO, Tech Support, the Janitor and the CEO – everyone has a function.  Can a senior leader do all it alone?  No way.  We create synergy when we use our unique talents to focus on shared success.  “Because I said so” is telling me that you’re the only one with an opinion that matters.  Ahem… hello?  Everyone matters.

I have a name and it’s not “Overhead”

Calling someone “the HR Manager” or “the Helpdesk Guy” or “the Finance Person” or “Hey You” only serves to dehumanize.  If we are ever at a cocktail party together, I promise that I won’t introduce you as “the Insensitive Butt”, so please call me and introduce me by my name, not my title.

We’re on the same team

I work for the same company as you.  I want to deliver exceptional results and service to my customers.  I’m willing to go above and beyond.   You too?  Then we have something in common.

Respect is not an upward stream – it flows two ways

If you want people to think that you think a lot of yourself, continue to treat people like you’re better than them.  If you want to be respected, show others respect.  It’s actually quite simple.

If you’re a leader that has said “because I said so” a time or two, the next time you’re tempted to say it, stop yourself.  Turn it into a “because I know that you’re going to do your best” or “because I’m counting on you.”  Trust me, it will make a huge difference.

Engage me in “why” and I’ll go the extra mile.  Coerce me, and you won’t want to know what I’m thinking.

What is your experience with a “because I said so” leader and what do you wish you had the courage to tell them?

(Photo credit)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Ash February 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm

At the risk of challenging this article, HR needs to lead the discussion not wait for ‘leaders’ to tell them. The frustration perhaps comes from not having HR acting as the Leader they are and must be. The business needs you to lead. HR are leaders we need the strategic and forward thinking HR that tells the business what it needs to do rather than being forced to react.


alli February 10, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Gordon –

I strongly agree with you! Transactional HR is necessary but not always forward thinking. Strategic HR needs to lead the business too – not just administration. In this case we were a proactive, forward thinking team but our vision for the work was in contrast to his vision. Very much appreciate your addition to the conversation!


Dawn Barclay February 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Hey there Alli,

Experience: it was actually someone who managed in the HR dept I worked in (long time ago). They were vile. Open office and they sat upfront like a school teacher with all their ‘girlies and gals’ facing her. Because ‘she said so’ happened daily, but she did with a fake smile. Not once did she explain the reason why. I don’t think it’s appropriate to say here on your online home what I wanted to say to them. IMO ‘because I said so’ is weak, threatening yes, and displays the real character of a leader, can you imagine what home life must be like? Geez!


alli February 11, 2013 at 5:53 pm

WOW, Dawn! Sounds like a horrendous environment to work in each and every day! When professionals are treated like children, the work suffers, employee engagement is practically nonexistent, and the leader is leaving a legacy of what not to do vs any kind of inspiration! It’s sad to think about how few strong leadership role models there must have been for this manager. Thanks for adding color to how weak “because I said so” is for a leader and the impact on the team.


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