Why I expect my co-workers to answer my requests with “no”

I lead a team of 20 software/web developers and managers. When I ask my team to do something collectively or as individuals,  the answer I expect from them is “no”.  It is because of this expectation that when I am delegating a task to any of my staff, I make sure that there’s a good reason behind my requests and that I am ready to offer the reasoning if asked.  It’s not like my team does not do what I ask them to do, as they are all amazing people to work with and they are very cooperative and  they actually do what I ask them do with no resistance. Most of the time, while it’s not necessary for me to offer any explanations since they willingly accept the task, I make the conscious effort to take the time to provide them with the explanation behind my request.

I think this mentality of  expecting “no” as the default answer to my requests developed from my early professional career when I was a younger manager, challenged from time to time from the more experienced software developers set in their ways of accomplishing things as well as very smart students/new graduates who seemed to know everything in the world. Maybe this mentality is a product of my upbringing as a Filipino-American and the value of respecting everyone, especially my elders, at all times.

As  I gained more credibility and experience, I found the resistance dwindling but the mentality is something that I’ve kept with me as it has provided some benefits when it comes to leading a very productive and collaborative team whose individual values and importance is not measured by job titles. While the org chart displays my position as higher than my employees,  I have never felt comfortable in using my title to dictate what my staff does.  I value the contributions of a student as equally as my most senior staff as I feel every single person brings something different to the team.

As a leader of my team, I realize the power of modeling as a means of influencing my team towards positive behaviors and towards a culture of respect and equal values. It is for this reason that I work hard in making sure that every single individual in my team knows I respect their opinions regardless of their titles and I expect them to offer their respect to their teammates like I do.  There  are occasions that arise when certain team members (managers, developers) and I disagree on what approach to take even when I have taken the time to explain my perspective on the matter. In most cases, I am coming from a business requirements perspective including deadlines and priorities while developers would be looking at the project from a technical implementation’s point of view. My approach and reasons are not always  followed and so all I could do is allow them to try their approach even knowing full well that it would not be the best decision.  There have been more than a couple of occasions when after a few months within into the project,  after users and those involved in the project have had more experience,  the approach I had suggested may or may not the proper one after all.  In those cases where my approach was the proper one, I have never said “I told you so” to my team, rather, I find these situations learning experience and trust-building opportunities.  I always find my self pleasantly surprised when at times, one of my team members would say something like “I found this approach better and I learned it from Joe from a previous project”.

My main reason why I don’t force my orders on my staff is because I want a relationship that is based on collaboration and mutual respect, not one based on boss/employee hierarchy where orders are top-down and based on titles. In my few years of management experience, I have found this approach to be successful.

4 thoughts on “Why I expect my co-workers to answer my requests with “no”

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  2. Lisa Tetzloff

    Thanks for sharing these perspectives! I value a leadership approach that shows team members that they matter. The people I supervise are gifted in many ways, including ways that I am not. If I create a work climate that isn’t open, we won’t achieve the best that our collective strengths offer. If we truly want the best for our students, we need to pool our ideas and share opinions freely. As a leadership educator, I believe it’s critical that we model this for students. Unfortunately I see too many leaders in higher ed who work by hierarchy. While they say we’re a community, they create an environment where only degrees and titles make one worthy to challenge or question. They don’t understand that the best ideas often come from the most unlikely places.

    1. Joe Sabado Post author

      Thank you for your comment Lisa! As you wrote, we are role models to the students and collaboration, community building and respect not based on titles are what I try to promote at work.

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