Lose The Yes Men

Sep 30, 2016 1 Min Read


Why we should stop living in a cocoon of what we want to hear

Yes boss. Can boss. Boleh boss. Of course can boss!

How great would it be if we could go through our entire life blissfully, unopposed?

But of course, life is a little bit of an uphill battle especially if you’re someone who’s driven to want to get to the top of whatever the thing is that you’re trying to reach. And life is full of opposition. And for good reason. It makes you take stock of your decisions and actions.

I can think back to growing up and seething at my parents because they did not think I should go out more than twice a week during a school week and had enforced this idea.

As frustrated and annoyed as I was, it made me to be mindful of my studies and also start to spend more time with my family and less time trying to be a cool kid.

So what if our family, friends and colleagues let us run wild. Would it be to our own benefit or to our detriment?

46165944 - silenced concept, with man covered his mouth with his hand

The nodding head

Malaysia has the highest rated level of Power Distance—meaning we’re very inclined to blindly accept a hierarchical order and never question anyone’s place on it.

High power distance ratings are common in the Asian region where the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat and subordinates do as they’re told. It’s a cultural phenomenon that will no doubt evolve as we continue to become increasingly globalised.

In the meantime, Malaysian leaders and their corporations continue to be affected by this unspoken yes-men culture.

An excerpt from leadership consultant Kate Sweetman’s article, In Asia, Power Gets in The Way shares the following sentiment:

“What effect does power distance have on how corporations actually work? An executive coach who works in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines explains it this way: Senior-level people get no information, and believe that they have nothing to improve upon, and junior-level people do not bring ideas forward.

It’s hard to innovate under these conditions. Of course, these are generalisations. Within each culture are people of different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences. But whenever I ask if the power distance is playing out in an organisation, I always get a resounding yes.”

If a company has cultivated a yes-man culture, they have unwittingly bred a culture of people who are either too afraid to say anything or just shut up and collect their pay cheques. A corporate landscape and a leader that does not welcome some opposition and moreover collaboration, is doom to be stuck and risk the business being bogged down.

Xerox’s Barry Rand was spot on when he told leaders at his company that,

“If you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant.”

Good leadership encourages everyone’s evolution and development.

So if you’re feeling like things are too easy at work or you’re always getting what you want as soon as you want it. No questions asked. It’s time to start pondering: is your company a really well-oiled machine or have you surrounded yourself with yes-men?

The proof of course is what your employees really think of your vision and leadership and of course, how your firm is fairing.


Anatomy of yes-men

Have you ever stuffed your clothes in your cupboard because your parents said, “Clean your room?” You sort of followed instructions but not really. Your room looks clean but you have a pile of junk hidden somewhere. In many ways, modern workplaces create a similar scenario that is oftentimes infuriating.

Why say yes then?

Researchers at University College London and Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium believe it’s easier to follow orders, as a person has less concern about the consequence of their actions.

Yes-men are disconnected from their actions when they are under orders, even though they are the ones physically carrying out the task. Additionally, researchers found that people are more passive than autonomous when under orders. They’re not invested in what they are doing and just follow a checklist.

This doesn’t make anyone less responsible for their actions but being human and knowing what we know—should leaders be more mindful of their influence and feel obligated to create an environment that challenges? Not for the sake of dissent, but to refine ideas and visions and drive your followers and company together to greater things.







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Louisa was formerly an editorial associate and freelance writer with Leaderonomics. An extrovert who loves the outdoors; she thinks change is exciting and should be embraced.

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