How to Build a Team of “Yes Men”

Listening to Michael Hyatt’s superb podcast on creating team unity, my first reaction was, “We’re good! The military has got this team alignment thing figured out. We’re focused on the mission, we have a clear command structure, and we follow orders.” But as Michael explained the steps to creating team alignment, he said that to get the most powerful results, leaders must:

Create an environment that is safe for dissent.

Ouch! Ok, that’s not the first phrase most military members would use to describe their work environment. In fact, I think it’s rare that I’ve seen a military leader who embraces dissent in the name of creating unity. I know I’ve never prioritized it.

The result?…we get a team full of Yes Men who not only fail to speak up when they disagree with mundane issues, but are also trained to remain quiet in the face of critical decisions. If you want a team of folks like that, then make sure you do these things.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Caroline Chavez, a senior drill instructor assigned to Platoon 4023, November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, commands her platoon during their final drill evaluation, June 25, 2014, at Parris Island, S.C.
(DoD photo by Cpl. Octavia Davis, U.S. Marine Corps/Released)

If you want to create a team full of Yes Men, then…

Hire people who think just like you. If everyone in the room is nodding their heads in agreement, then no one is brainstorming the multitude of ways the plan can falter.

Interrupt your people. Nothing communicates disrespect like stopping someone mid-sentence to insert your wisdom. You’re basically telling them that you’re uninterested in their ideas and they should agree with you at every opportunity.

Tell your subordinates how to do their jobs. Perhaps your team members don’t have adequate training or experience to achieve excellence. Maybe their method is not the way you would do it. It’s ok, tell them exactly how to do their jobs and they’ll get used to waiting for your guidance.

Give your opinion early and often. In the Michael Hyatt podcast episode I mentioned, he elaborates on how a leader can stifle an atmosphere of collaboration and inclusion by speaking his opinion early. When the leader poses an issue and immediately states his belief about the solution, everyone in the room will (consciously or subconsciously) bend their beliefs to align with his.

Deconstruct every suggestion people offer. Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, offers “20 Workplace Habits You Need to Break.” One of which is “Starting your remarks with No, But, or However.” He says,

When you start a sentence with “no,” “but,” “however,” or any variation thereof, no matter how friendly your tone or how many cute mollifying phrases you throw in to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, the message to the other person is You are wrong.

Tell them they’re wrong enough times and they’ll say Yes to everything you say.

Assert your authority at every opportunity. If you still want a room full of Yes Men…and you don’t think your team can see the rank on your chest which clearly exhibits your authority…then make sure you constantly tell them who’s in charge.

Add too much value and get the last word. Similarly, put your two cents into every discussion and ensure that your subordinates leave the room with your guidance (certainly not their approved and encouraged idea) fresh in their minds. Marshall Goldsmith ranks “Adding too much value” as Bad Workplace Habit #2. He says that when leaders respond with, “Good idea, but you should do it this way…,” then they destroy the subordinate’s commitment to the idea while improving it only a little. What will that get you?… “Whatever you say, boss.

React with anger. Here’s a surefire way to shut down communication and get people in line with “Yes’s.” Responding to bad news with anger will make your team members think twice about bringing it to you. If you think your military mission can afford that hesitation, then anger is the way to go.

Don’t recognize the credentials of others. Failing to acknowledge the education, experience, and proven success of your team members causes them to question whether their ideas are good enough to offer. It’s easy for people to say, “Well, the boss doesn’t think any of us bring anything to the table, so why should we contribute?

Don’t express gratitude. A thanks doesn’t cost anything, except your followers’ drive to contribute to the team. If you think “Selfless Service” also means “Thankless Service,” then brush off every accomplishment as “just part of my people’s duty to the mission.”

Don’t ask for input or performance feedback. If you are completely satisfied with where you are as a team, and personally as a leader, then there’s no need to get your team’s opinion of your performance. Marshall Goldsmith may not be talking about you when he says,

Successful people are incredibly delusional about their achievements. Over 95 percent of the members in most successful groups believe that they perform in the top half of their group.

Bottom Line

Having a team full of Yes Men is perfectly ok…as long as your skill as a leader is perfect enough to account for all the breakthrough ideas, seized opportunities, avoided catastrophes, and psychological cohesion that comes from building an aligned and committed team. If you want that team instead, then do the opposite of everything above.

Questions for Leaders

  • Look around at your next meeting. Is anyone providing input? If so, is it always the same people? What do the others have to contribute?
  • How much more effective would you be if you had total awareness of the impact of your actions on others? What would it take to find out?
  • Is your need to prove you’re in charge more important than your desire to develop your team by encouraging their input?

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