Leadership: is it possible to do it in humane way?

Recently, I watched the movie Whiplash starring JK Simmons, the winner of this year Academy Award for best supporting actor. I was absolutely shocked by the way that the fiercely demanding conservatory music teacher motivated his students. His goal was absolutely clear: to get more and more from them.

I have begun to wonder: is it possible to be a leader and achieve more without using tyranny and force? Is pushing people beyond any reasonable expectations the only way to motivate them? I still cannot understand or come up with the answer to: why have the students accepted and submitted to the tyranny of their conductor? The film absolutely stunned me, and left with an unanswered question: how many other people also don’t understand this behavior as an “absolute necessity”?

The privilege of being a manager

Undoubtedly, Terence Fletcher as a teacher of music used his coercive power to drive the students. He was like a god, who could at any moment decide who would be a member of his band and for how long. He could also influence, and consequently change or even end the promising future of any of his students in the music industry.

He used his position and privileges associated with being a leader to create fear and passivity among his students who didn’t resist when, without any qualms, he humiliated and insulted them. Unfortunately, this particular type of behavior is not exclusively specific for the music industry. I can imagine that this type of management could be found in any team, or in any industry. Happily, at least for some professions, times have changed and more and more people have the possibility to make the conscious choice whether they want to work in a particular team or with a particular manager. Additionally, they can choose to leave their company and move on to another company that respect human dignity and understands that force and compulsion is no longer a legitimate option.

So, what is a good alternative to this management style?

Reverse thinking about your company’s hierarchy

From my own experience, I can honestly admit that it is a real privilege to be able to cooperate with a manager that it is not acting in domineer way towards his subordinates. The truly respectful manager does not put himself first. He knows that the people that are part of his team are primarily working for a company success, and he knows that this will ultimately be in his benefit also. He knows that they are his calling cards, who, when they act efficiently, bring enormous value and satisfaction for the manager and associates.

Leadership - Management levels

Moreover, a great manager reverses the composition of the typical company hierarchy  (which some of us know all to well from our day to day work and which is pointedly presented in the picture on the right) by changing thinking and attitude towards the employees.

This type of manager does not take out his private problems or bad mood on his co-workers, so they don’t need to handle him with kid gloves or be afraid of unpredictable, unpleasant behavior that might happen unexpectedly in their workspace.

He is there to support his employees and take responsibility for obstacles that have arisen, instead of pushing them down to the “lower levels”.

And certainly, it does not mean that he is there alone, overwhelmed by the amount of work that he has to do. He has an incredibly powerful tool in his hands: delegation of tasks.


Properly conducted delegation of work frees managers time up for tasks that, in the long term, increase the efficiency of his team and consequently maximize company’s profits. Such tasks that seem to naturally fit the manager job description are:

  • planning, setting goals and keeping team on the right track according to the selected strategy,
  • motivating and increasing the competence of the employees,
  • resolving tasks that demand additional knowledge, removing obstacles and negotiating.

The above-mentioned activities are certainly not easy and requires several conditions that must be fulfilled by the manager in order to take complete advantage of the delegation. These conditions once again primarily involve managers’ thinking, beliefs and attitude. Let’s take a closer look at these.

If you want something done right, do it yourself

This belief is an absolute impediment to the process of delegation. Thinking that we are the only person that can do a particular job well, or lack of trust in other people’s ability to fulfil the task is the first assumption that has to be eliminated.

Let’s imagine a parent who wants to teach his child to tie his shoelace. He shows his child how it is done, but then he does not let the child to do tying by itself. Because he is convinced that his child (even though its his!) won’t make the perfect loop right away! However, do we really want to tie ours children shoelaces for them until they are 40? I guess no.

So, why do we act like this in our workplace?

[Tweet “By doing someone else’s job for them, we aren’t challenging them to do the job themselves.”]

The process of letting go is not easy, especially if we have just have been promoted from a previously held position and still have knowledge that is needed to do this job. But honestly, there is no other way to move forward into the future and new positions (or maybe we shouldn’t have left are previous position in the first place).

The apprentice surpassed his master

When we have already left others alone to do their job we can still be afraid that they will manage their task so well that somebody might see it, and God forbid, think that we are not needed any more, or even worse, we may someday be replaced.

Such thinking and apprehension will never allow us to become true leaders and the supporter of our fellow employees. We might be reluctant to let others grow, and this fear might prevent us from sharing knowledge and responsibility with others (especially by giving them the possibility to make decisions).

Unfortunately, such a belief indicates that we do not have proper self-esteem and might bring us into unhealthy competition with our co-workers.

We cannot be a true leader if we do not trust even ourselves, so we need to take actions to empower ourselves and transform our doubts into positive actions.

Comfort zone

Last but not least, we all like to feel occupied and useful. Concrete activities that involve a measurable outcome are easy to verify, but how can we confirm if our motivation, supporting and planning actually yields results? How can we measure the satisfaction of our co-workers?

[Tweet “A great manager has his hands full focusing on creating a friendly environment for his employees.”] By a friendly environment, I mean:

  • setting clear rules and boundaries,
  • disseminating positive values within his team,
  • creating a conducive atmosphere to learn and also make mistakes from which we can learn lesson instead of looking for someone else to blame,
  • …and last but not least giving feedback.

Conducting all these activities is definitely not easy. Many times it requires the manager to go beyond his comfort zone. But in return, he can count on something intangible: the dedication of his team to resolve any issue. This is how we can measure results of his work – by the effectiveness of his team.


Being a leader is a great privilege, but also one that requires responsibility and a lot of hard work that we need to do at first on our character, and then with our team.

Leadership - What kind of leader are you?

Professor Keating, the English teacher who was played by Robin Williams in the the movie Dead Poets Society, always encouraged his students to embrace their individualism, think independently, and pursue their passions. Keating’s methods ultimately cost him his job as well as Terence Fletcher from Whiplash, but the difference was that he gained such respect and affection from students, that they interceded for him instead of showing happiness and feeling relieved when he was gone.

Have you ever thought what sort of reaction you might see from your employees if you left?


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