Name Dropping is Cheating

Subject: Authority & Merit
From: Jack Dorsey
X-Mailer: iPhone Mail (9B206)
Date: Wed, 5 Sep 2012 15:08:02 -0700
To: Square
I’ve noticed a funny thing in the company. There’s been a high occurrence of folks using names, mine for instance, to push through an idea. “Jack really wants this to happen, Jack thinks this is an amazing idea, Jack said, etc.” This is obviously counter to the meritocracy/marketplace of ideas we want to build. Using someone else’s name to sell an idea does two things:
  1. It diminishes your authority.
  2. It diminishes the idea’s merit.
Simply: if you have to use someone else’s name or authority to get a point across, there is little merit to the point (you might not believe it yourself). If you believe in something to be correct, focus on showing your work to prove it. Authority derives naturally from merit, not the other way around.
We want more passionate debates about bold and crazy ideas rethinking what we’ve taken for granted rather than discussions that end in “John wants this, this is how we’re supposed to do it.” The former will keep us agile and innovative, the latter will make us irrelevant.

When I first read this memo from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Square, all I could do is play back dozens of scenarios in my head where I was either being pushed an idea, task or notion by someone who named-dropped the name of a leader, or even the few times that I’ve caught myself doing the same.

Dropping names to persuade someone is the equivalent of cheating.   It takes a dangerous short-cut in compromising people’s ability to truly collaborate, connect, persuade and influence what needs to be done.   It doesn’t only impact the individuals involved, but it also kills ideas and creates a toxic culture who relies heavily on this mechanism to execute and get things done

Playing on the decades-old command-and-control system that most organizations still embody, this may be a way for some  to get things done, whereas the long(er) term impact could be quite severe as you’re not only cheating the person you’re trying to persuade, but you’re actually also cheating both the company and yourself at the same time.

When you drop a name to persuade, you’re missing the opportunity to align people to a common purpose and empower creative thinking. Our hearts and minds aren’t in our work just because “John told us to do so” and without a purpose, it not only impacts the ability to execute, but has a dramatic impact on the level of engagement in the organization.  In this month’s Harvard Business Review, authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms write a superb piece called Understanding the New Power.   When you consider how power is shifting within organizations, name dropping can have debilitating effects on the execution of your business strategy and your overall culture.   In particular, Heimans and Timms outline the following currents of change:

Don’t Dictate: Collaborate

New power norms place a special emphasis on collaboration, and not just as a way to get things done or as part of a mandated “consultation process.” New power models, at their best, reinforce the human instinct to cooperate (rather than compete) by rewarding those who share their own ideas, spread those of others, or build on existing ideas to make them better.

A movement mindset

Organizations are seeing movements of employees, which are far beyond management’s control.   From public resistance to leadership policy to extremes such as websites which are popping up that provide forums for anonymous employee accounts of what is really going on inside businesses and how leaders are perceived.   Management needs to understand that they cannot control the conversation and instead need to be part of the conversation and part of the solution by listening and engaging with their employees.

In this age of heightened business complexity and pressure, if you’re like most managers, you’re facing this sort of challenge more often these days where you need to get things done quickly through peers inside and outside your immediate scope of command-and control.  When the pressure and workload is high, it’s tempting to take a short cut (or perhaps you don’t even realize you’re doing it).   Why spend time collaborating and selling your ideas when you can impose them on someone else in a fraction of the time?   This really isn’t a question of ethics, it creates an inertial environment and when you consider how power and dynamics are quickly and noticeably shifting within organizations, those who choose to name-drop, will quickly find themselves powerless.

So what can I do?

Jay A. Conger, professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School  points out that managers and executives at all levels must use a more lateral style of leadership. Here are some examples of such:


Nothing worse than getting a call from someone you’ve never spoken to before and getting asked to do something for them.   As one of the role models of new age networking , Gary Vaynerhuck says, the true secret to networking is gaining the first-mover’s advantage: leverage. How does one acquire that kind of leverage? Be the first person in the relationship to provide value. Bottom line: You need to take the time to build relationships and participate in a give-and-take with those you collaborate with.

Constructive persuasion and negotiation

Too many managers wrongly view persuasion and negotiation as tools for manipulation. But conducted with an eye toward mutual benefit, they can vastly enhance your influence. To make persuasion and negotiation constructive rather than manipulative, view the person you’re dealing with as a peer instead of a “target.”


Take time to visit the people whose buy-in you need. Ask their opinions about the initiative you’re championing. Get their ideas as well as their reactions to your ideas.

Coalition building

It’s a fact of human nature that several people who are collectively advocating an idea exert more influence than a lone proponent. For this reason, coalition building plays a vital role in lateral leadership. To assemble a powerful coalition, begin by asking yourself who’s most likely to be affected by the change you’re proposing.

Chime In: Have you caught yourself name-dropping to get things done?


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