Why Some People Cant Follow Simple Instructions

Why Some People Cant Follow Simple Instructions

Why Some People Can’t Follow Simple Instructions 

By Mark Wager

While countries have experienced different levels of success while dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, their approach has been consistent. All around the world Governments have been asking people to social distance and in many cases self-isolate. It's a very simple instruction in order to save lives . All people have to do is to stay home yet what is also apparent is that there are some people who are incapable of following this simple instruction. This is not just a problem for a particular country. It's becoming a serious problem worldwide.

It’s a frustration that Leaders in business share. As a Leadership Coach I have Leaders contacting me for advice and a typical question I get asked is “Mark, I’ve asked someone to do something simple and they just didn’t do it, what should I do?” In this week's article I want to explore why some people can’t follow simple instructions and the solution to this problem.

They think the rules don’t apply to them

Some people tend to have an over inflated opinion of their abilities in relation to other people. I’m sure we have all worked with someone who believes they are far better than what they actually are. When this happens they understand and even agree with the instructions but don’t think the instructions apply to them. This is known as “illusory superiority” and is particularly common with people who are in roles which tend to have a lot of responsibility, and yes it’s often Leaders who are the worst at following instructions. Recently in Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, the chief medical officer and the person responsible for issuing guidelines on how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, had to resign because she broke the self-isolation rules twice. The same rules that she was responsible for creating.

Solution: Encourage the Leaders to Lead

I recall a coaching session in which a Leader expressed concern for the heath of her team. They were working very long hours and stress was building and it seemed no matter how many times she asked them to take their breaks or leave on time they did the opposite.  The Leader was frustrated and wanted a solution. I asked the Leader if she took her breaks and if she went home on time to which her reply was “no I don’t but it’s different for me.” It was at this moment that the she realised that it was her behaviour  that needed to change before her team because those around her copied her actions and it was for her to set the example. If you feel that someone won't follow a simple instruction then make them realise just how much their actions impact those around them. Play to their self-importance and instead for asking them to follow, you are asking them to lead.

They don’t think it’s that bad 

The key difference between countries that have managed the coronavirus outbreak well and those countries that haven’t is the speed of action as soon as they had the first cases. Countries like Fiji and New Zealander took very firm action as soon as cases started appearing and before a single death yet unfortunately in the United States, it took four thousand deaths before any serious action was taken by the President. Prior to that, President Trump who had the same information as other countries was downplaying the pandemic saying it would go away and it wasn’t that serious yet such delays in action meant that at the time of this article the United States is recording around 30,000 new cases every day and with over 1,000 deaths per day and it’s only getting worse. Just  some simple steps at the start of the pandemic would have saved many lives. 

Solution: Make the consequences clear 

Anyone who works in Human Resources has encountered the situation where health and safety policies have been issued warning people of hazards around the workplace but then people ignore the policies until one day there’s an accident and it’s only then when people take the warning seriously. Everyone needs a different level of evidence in order to convince them to take action so if you want to convince people, you need to make the consequences very clear and very real and be prepared to back it up with evidence. Don't assume that just because you say something that everyone will accept what you say.

Some people are just stupid 

The sad aspect of human nature is that there will always be some people  you just can’t help no matter what you do. In New Zealand eight people have been arrested and charged for repeated breaches of the national lockdown and are now facing potential jail time and it’s not just New Zealand, Italy and other European countries have also had to take such action. Considering what has happened people can avoid getting arrested and going to jail by just following a simple instruction, just by sitting at home and watching TV you can avoid getting in trouble but there are people who are unable to do this.

Solution: You can’t fix stupid 

As a Leadership Coach I can find solutions to many issues in workplaces but unfortunately you just can’t fix stupid. If you explain a situation to someone and make the instructions simple and clear and they fail to do this it’s your fault as a Leader but if you explain again stressing the importance and consequences and they still fail to comply then it’s the individuals fault. In the workplace these people don't fit in and don't last long. It's not a nice thing to fire people but remember a true Leader doesn’t fire people, a true leader explains to people the consequences of their actions and allows the employee to fire themselves. As a Leader you can’t control people all you can do is educate them and hopefully with the right encouragement and information they will do the right thing.

About the Author

Mark Wager is the Chief Leadership Coach at the Australasian Leadership Institute. Originally from the United Kingdom but now calling New Zealand his home, Mark shows leaders across the Asia Pacific region how to influence, motivate and inspire their teams. Driven by a frustration of attending many ineffective workshops during his 30 year managerial career Mark has made his passion in life to redefine how leaders are trained.

Mark takes advanced psychological theories and makes them accessible to the modern leader regardless of their background, experience or industry, by developing customised Leadership workshops and individual coaching sessions that combine practical real-life scenarios with a mixture of British wit. Mark dispels the myth that there are certain Leadership skills that can’t be learnt. 

Leaders from some of the regions most prestigious organisations have been trained by Mark including the delegates of the European Union, Weta workshops, Amnesty International, Unicef, Barnados, St Johns, Red Cross, NZ Basketball, NZ Tennis, NZ Hockey, NZ Netball, NZ Rugby League, Ministry of Justice, Department of Internal Affairs, NZ Defence Force, the Fijian Broadcasting Corporation, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Sofitel resorts, Raddison Hotel Group, Te Whanau Waipareira and many more. 

You can contact Mark via the enquiry form below 

Posted: Tuesday 14 April 2020

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