From Your Crew: Why We Ask “How High” When You Tell Us To Jump

When bragging about their leadership skills, most of you have probably heard someone you know tell you “When I tell them to jump, they ask ‘How high?’”. You are supposed to assume that the jumpers do it to satisfy the most particular nature of the speaker’s demands. This implies that the speaker holds such power that their workers spend extra effort meeting even his or her most detailed or trivial requests. The speaker doesn’t expect you to wonder why their workers assume s/he has a need to micromanage every task. To keep your mind from wandering too far down that path, let me explain not the speaker’s mind, but go right to the true motives of their crew.

As a crew member, I know the speaker (let’s just call him or her “fearless leader”, or even “fearless” for short) has the financial resources and personal or political connections to hold his/her current position. But they got their leadership skills from studying Hollywood blockbusters or listening to other wannabees further up the chain of command. S/he hasn’t taken the time to learn the capabilities of their team. They don’t understand the complexity of the problem at hand. They really do like to bark orders, however. As a member of fearless’ crew, my motives are simple. I want to stroke his or her ego and get out of serious work. I may have been on my school track team, but if fearless is satisfied with me jumping four inches off the ground, that’s fine with me.

If fearless had a hangover, and I was asked to stand in for them one day, my crew would know not to ask frivolous questions. If one of them did ask “How high?”, I would be tempted to stop and have him or her jump as high as they could many times while other members of the crew documented the results. And if the last jump didn’t measure up? . . . .

My crew would know two things:

  1. I expect them to give 100%. If he was on the track team, I would expect him to excel. I would have assigned it to someone else if the situation only demanded a 4″ jump. If the job demanded a spacecraft to be built, I’d give the job to my rocket scientist (which would probably be a different person than my track star).
  2. I expect my crew to understand the nature and needs of the assignment in front of them and work it out. Whether the job demanded a 36-inch or a 24-inch high jump, I would expect my track star to be able to figure it out and complete the job without further guidance. At the same time, I expect my team members to know their capabilities and understand their limitations, as well as the other capabilities within the team so that if there is a mismatch, we, as a team, can effectively deal with it.

Is any of this too much to ask?

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An old liberal of unspecified race, gender, size, and sexual orientation that believes in both God and science and is not the least bit intimidated by numbers.


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