Do as Invited, or Else

By Cyberquill 11/12/20122 Comments

Drawing parallels between conducting an orchestra and leading a company, leadership blogger Michael Hyatt recently offered the following observation:

When the concert is over, and the audience is clapping, the conductor turns to the audience and takes a bow. A good conductor immediately turns to the orchestra and invites them to stand and bow as well.

The word that caught my eye here is “invites.”

Let’s say you’re an orchestra musician. At the end of a concert, as the conductor “invites” you and your colleagues to stand and take your bows, you elect to remain seated—what do you think will happen then?

Most likely, you’ll be in for some sort of disciplinary action. At the very least, you can expect an earful about how the conductor’s “invitations” are to be heeded, followed by a warning that next time you dare elevate your wayward personal impulses over what the conductor motions you to do, you can grab your little fiddle and go busk at subway stations for a living.

Fact is, you weren’t “invited” to stand and take a bow. You were ordered to do so.

Nothing against orders per se. In many environments, orders are an indispensable tool for ensuring efficiency and preventing chaos. And chances are that, in general, members of an orchestra either don’t mind or even enjoy bowing to the conductor’s baton. They probably consider it an honor and a privilege to have attained to a position where a conductor, well, conducts them, and falling out of line in any way would be furthest from their minds. After all, not only does following orders absolve a person from the hassle of having to make his own decisions, but every orchestra musician certainly understands that if spontaneous individual initiative in the pit were tolerated, the result would be pandemonium, not anything resembling an orchestral performance.

Still, let’s drop the euphemisms and call an order an order, not an “invitation.” A musician was invited to join the orchestra. Having accepted the invitation to join, however, his job now is to follow orders, not to receive “invitations” from the conductor.

I already belabored this point in a previous post, so I don’t intend to reprise myself at any great length, but here’s the gist in a nutshell:

Irrespective of how you or anyone else may refer to it, anytime your insubordination to a desired behavior or course of action articulated by someone else will result, or can be reasonably expected to result, in unpleasant consequences visited upon you by that someone, you were given the functional equivalent of an order; in particular, anytime your motivation to submit to a “suggested” course of action derives from fear of how the suggesting party might react if you don’t.

Pain following disobedience in a causal kind of way is the very hallmark of an order. Indeed, it constitutes its sole defining feature. The manner in which an order is delivered and the label anyone chooses to put on it (“invitation”, “advice”, etc.) make no difference in terms of the underlying disobedience-equals-pain mechanism by which it operates.

I don’t care how big and boldly it says INVITATION on the card; if I can expect to get in trouble with its issuer if I were to decline, then this so-called “invitation” is not that which it purports to be.

See, the prospect of being punished for declining contravenes the very essence of an invitation—otherwise, what might be the difference in principle between an invitation and, say, a summons or a subpoena?

The difference, of course, is that declining a summons or a subpoena will result in unpleasant (= painful) consequences for the recipient. To refer to either as an “invitation” sounds nothing short of sarcastic, just like saying that the conductor “invites” his musicians to stand and take their bows, given that there will be hell to pay for anyone that doesn’t do as “invited.”

So the idea that declining an invitation bears the potential for pain—the precise nature of the pain is irrelevant; a monetary fine is painful, as can be finding ourselves at the receiving end of other people’s nagging in consequence of our refusal to do their bidding—makes no sense whatsoever, for if it does bear such potential, we were given a summons, i.e., and order, not an invitation.

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  • Testazyk

    Concur.  Declining an invitation of the boss usually resulted in an invitation to visit the woodshed, which was not an inviting place.

    • Cyberquill

      That’s right. The same applies to anything the boss prefaces with “Could you do me a favor and…”

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