We have clients with a global footprint who operate with team members from all corners of the globe. Most use English as their universal language and for many of the team members, English is their second language. This sometimes presents a challenge where ideas, collaboration or dialogue can get lost in translation.

Not this time. On this rare and lucky occasion, valuable leadership and management lessons were found in translation when this team came together for a meeting.

A native English speaker Eddie, attempted to explain that he observed a stall in one of his major projects. From his perspective, the problem was the organization’s ‘resistance to change’. Engineering was resisting change. The folks on the manufacturing floor were resisting change. Everyone was resisting the change he wanted to implement.

Sam, a native Spanish speaker did not understand the meaning of ‘resistance to change’. Eddie described it further as opposition, dissent, and low commitment.  He called it insubordination.

Sam suddenly had a flash of understanding.   “Oh!” he said, “you want them to obey you.”

Something about the word “obey” hit Eddie hard, like being punched in the gut.

Notice that we don’t like to talk about our expectation for ‘obedience’ in that way. Managers don’t say, “I expect you to obey me.”   Like we are talking to Fido, our pet dog.  Yet, there are many who really do expect those on a lower hierarchy to behave that way.

Obedience can be an unspoken expectation from leaders.  And it is dangerous.  A workforce that is simply ‘obedient’ is not encouraged to provide useful feedback.  They learn quickly that they are doing other people’s work – and learn quickly that they don’t have to take personal responsibility for their own work.

When we create an environment where obedience is expected, what are we really telling our team?

“Just do what I say?  Don’t question my authority?  If you can’t do what I say, we’ll find someone who can?”

This gift was found in translation and through clarification.  What can you do to clarify those questions in your own mind and then with your team?  Are people really being resistant to change?  And how can you create the environment that is more accepting of this change?