Just Do It My Way

Written by lewsauder

July 9, 2014

Inflexible management

My way or the highway.

Do you like the toilet paper to roll up from the bottom? Or do you prefer that roll down from the top?

Chances are that you have a preference.

I deliberately ignore the direction of the role when I replace it (yes, I do replace it). By doing this, it rolls from the top and from the bottom each about 50% of the time.  And something amazing has come out of that. I haven’t once had trouble unrolling this bathroom essential, regardless from where it unrolls.

I’ve always thought that the preference that most people have is mostly about control.  From my experience, it is no easier to unroll toilet paper from either direction.  People develop a habit of using it one of the ways and in the process, they convince themselves that if that’s how they like it, that’s how everyoneelseshould like it.

I was once assigned to be the project manager for a project.  I was taking over for another project manager who was leaving the company.  We had a two-week knowledge transfer period.  The first few days I had a lot of questions. After that, I had pretty much figured things out. And once I got to that point, I had some ideas for how to manage the project.  But every time I told him what I intended to do, my soon-to-be predecessor would say “That’s not how I’d do it.” He would then grace me with the approach that he would take and expect me to follow his advice.

After hearing it a few times, I was just a little annoyed.  The more he contradicted me with what I considered subtle differences between our approaches, the more I wanted to just ask him to leave the project early.

I maintained my patience until he finally left.  And once I was free of him, I was free to run things the way I wanted.  Lo and behold, the project ended successfully.


People develop preferences and ways of doing things.  It might be the path they go to work or how they prefer their favorite meal prepared.  If someone does it differently, some folks simply dismiss it as wrong. “That’s not the way to go downtown!”

Related post: How Not Trusting Your Team Kills Productivity

There are managers who use this approach every day.  They assign a task and then tell you how you should do it.

What if the assignee came up with a better or more creative way to do the task? Maybe they’ve done a similar task and know something from that experience.

Some managers think they ascended to that position because they are the only ones who know how to do things. “Doing it differently than me means you must be doing it wrong.”

Some managers think they’re being flexible when they avoid correcting people. They just throw out a “that’s not how I’d do it” nudge to push the wrong-doer back on track.

It’s sometimes hard for a new manager to let go of details.  It’s understandable when they make the transition from worker-bee to manager.  But an experienced manager often continues to try to prescribe how things should be done.

For more information, check out The Importance of Leadership in Project Management

A good leader has a tolerance for mistakes.  It’s one of the best ways for the workers to learn.  A good manager knows just how much rope to give someone to let them learn, without screwing up an entire project.

Mistakes can be good.

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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1 Comment

  1. Mark Jewell

    True words. Earlier in my career I’d find myself doing what you describe. While I like the practice of providing an opportunity for an employee/colleague to forge ahead, I also like to ask questions like, “What made you decide to take that approach?” Not only does it provide a helpful check point, but there are times when I’ve also learned something. Good blog, Lew. Thanks.



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