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Be Glad You Don’t Always Get What you Want: Advice for Leaders

Seriously?!  There is  an upside to not getting what you, as a leader, wants every once in a while?

You bet!

I was at the Montreal airport a few years back picking out a rental car for my trip down to upstate New York where I was going to facilitate a leadership workshop.   I love renting from National because I get to just head straight to their aisle, pick any car I want and be on the road in no time. Awesome.

I didn’t expect Montreal to be any different that day.  I arrived, went to the National Aisle and picked out a car I was happy with. I was really happy actually because It had 3 things going for it that I don’t always get together.  It had a sunroof and it was sunny and 23 degrees Celcius.  It had leather seats.  Most importantly it had Satellite Radio.  80s on 8, bring it on!  Very happy to have all three for the trip, I drove the Sonata I had chosen to the National exit booth.  Shortly after handing the gentleman my drivers licence for verification, he turned to me and asked “Mr Benjatschek, you are heading to New York right?”  to which I replied “Yes”.

“I’m sorry to inform you but I can’t let you take this car.  We have a car that needs to be returned to New York.  I am going to kindly ask you to park  over there, grab your things and I’ll pull around with the vehicle we need you to take”

I have to admit that while I didn’t verbalize it, I didn’t react well.  Inside, I resented having to give up a car that fit everything I was looking for.  As I begrudgingly pulled my bags out of the trunk, in my mind I could already picture him coming around the corner with a 1971 Pinto, complete with a generation appropriate flower design on it.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.

When I took my last bag out and set it down I could hear a vehicle coming and so I looked with skepticism to see what monstrousity they were forcing me to drive to New York in.

Have you ever had to eat your own words?  Had I spouted my dissatisfaction to the attendant I would have had to eat them big time.  It wasn’t a Pinto.  Of all possible rides, doesn’t he pull around in  a BMW convertible!  A 3  hour cruise in a BMW convertible on a warm sunny day through the Adirondacks of upstate New York with satellite radio.  WOW.  Forest Gump: that beats your box of chocolates.

The whole experience reinforced a good life lesson for anyone but especially for leaders.  The lesson Is this: “Be careful on always insisting you get what you want.  You may succeed but sometimes it means that you’ll miss out on something better.”

As I think of how this lesson applies to leaders it is this:

  1. As leaders we have expectations of our staff.  Performance is about meeting our expectations.
  2. Many times, we have been chosen to lead because of our past performance and experience in the activities of the team we’re leading.
  3. Our past experience validates the “right thing to do” in most situations and can easily become what we insist on from our staff.
  4. With best of intentions we try to help them avoid some of the potholes we fell into by TELLING them what to do.

Great intentions.  Many times it leads to great results.  But like my car rental experience you could be missing out.

 If  you don’t want to miss out, you need to know that for leaders there is a time to TELL and a time to ASK.

What does that mean?

There is a time to TELL

I believe that leaders have every right to tell people what is expected and expect conformance to existing processes when someone is new on the job. It is pretty hard for anyone to tell you how to improve your process unless they understand the ins and outs of what it is.

However continued insistence on the preferred status quo after an employee has demonstrated they get it comes at potential opportunity cost to your results.

In early stages you tell them what to do and then when you sit down with them you may bring up their results and tell them how they did.  Pretty standard stuff.

There is a time to ASK

If you want to take your leadership to the next level, demonstrated competence in existing processes from any employee should see you switch from telling to asking.  It will unleash innovation and creativity in your team.  What does that look like?

As an employee demonstrates they get your current process, have sessions where instead of telling them how they did you sit down and ask them how they felt about their results against the vision you had when the project started.  Instead of insisting on existing processes being followed to the letter you may instead recommunicate the vision for what needs to be done (the end state) and ask questions like:

  • What do you think you could have done to improve the result?
  • Are you missing any tools/resources to continually improve?

There is a time for each approach. In the beginning telling ensures foundational and sustainable results based on your knowledge and experience.  Once that is there though, asking taps into and accesses the diverse knowledge and experiences of your team.  Added on to what you already knew, they will make you better.  It will make everyone better.  You’ll start the journey from good to great or from great to spectacular.

If you don’t, your team’s potential may be unnecessarily capped at yours.  No matter how good you are the knowledge of many trumps the knowledge of one. Happy Asking!


David Benjatschek is a sought after Leadership workshop facilitator and life coach. To find out more about what David can bring to your organization or email him at

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