People Have the Right to Remain Stupid – Three Principles for Over-Controlling Leaders

I would like to propose a workplace version of the Miranda Warning. You’re probably familiar with it, but if not, it’s the warning given by police officers in the United States to criminal suspects before they take them into custody and question them. The Miranda Warning (aka, Miranda Rights) goes like this:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

My workplace version of the Miranda Warning is to protect employees’ rights to make their own decisions and to remind over-controlling leaders to back off, quit grabbing control (because you think your way is the best and only way), and let people choose their own course of action. Here’s my workplace Miranda Warning that a boss should be required to give an employee before swooping in to take control:

“You have the right to remain stupid. Anything you say or do can and will have natural consequences involved for which you will have to assume full responsibility. You have the right to seek my advice prior to making this decision but you are in control of your own choices. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

I developed this workplace Miranda Warning after reading Tim Sanford’s book, Losing Control & Liking It. A few weeks ago I wrote an article based on Sanford’s approach to handling issues of control in relationships, the essence of which is learning to better understand who is truly in control of a situation and letting that person take responsibility for it, rather than engaging in a struggle for power and control.

Empowering your employees means letting go of control. You’ve hired them to do a job so they should have the appropriate amount of autonomy and control in performing their work within specified boundaries. Letting go of control means trusting your people to make the right decisions, yet understanding that ultimately the choice is up to them.
Sanford offers three principles for leaders to remember when giving up control to employees. These principles serve as a self-regulating mechanism for all of us when we’re faced with making decisions:

1. You live and die by your own choices. There are many people and circumstances that influence us on a daily basis, and many of those things are out of our control. Yet we have control over how we choose to respond to those situations. When my kids were younger I would always get a chuckle when they would say “You make me so mad!” which invariably was in response to me not letting them do something they wanted to. The truth is that I didn’t make them mad, they chose to respond in an angry fashion when they didn’t get their way. We all have the ability to choose healthy, life-affirming choices, or negative, destructive choices.

2. You can choose smart or stupid. Since we live and die by our own choices, we have to decide whether we want to choose “smart” or choose “stupid.” Sometimes the choices are easy – legal vs. illegal, moral vs. immoral – but sometimes choices come in shades of gray. It’s these gray areas where leaders often get uncomfortable and choose to step in, take control from the employee, and make the decision themselves. That only serves to demoralize employees, create resentment towards the boss, and bottleneck every important decision with one person. Leaders have to learn to trust principle number 3.

3. There’s always somebody or something whose job it is to make your life miserable when you choose stupid. Whether you call it karma, cause and effect, reap what you sow, or just natural consequences, if we choose “stupid” there is eventually going to be a cost that has to be paid. Maybe the cost is an upset customer, a disappointed colleague, or a missed deadline. Those are difficult situations, but sometimes that is what’s needed for someone to fully grasp and learn from their mistakes. Leaders that habitually jump in to rescue employees to prevent or minimize mistakes can actually be creating a co-dependent relationship or excusing poor performance. Sometimes it’s best to let people experience the full consequence of their actions.

It can be scary giving up control, especially for a leader. We have a preconceived notion that we’re always supposed to be in control, but the reality is that there is very little that is directly under our complete power and control. That’s why we have teams. We need the diverse skills of many different people to complement each other and produce something better and greater than anything we could do alone. But that means letting go of control and doing our best to help people choose “smart” over “stupid.”

9 Comments on “People Have the Right to Remain Stupid – Three Principles for Over-Controlling Leaders

  1. Hi Randy,

    I haven’t read Losing Control and Liking It but it has some similarities to one of my favorite books, “The Oz Principle.” When I ask my team to get something done it generally goes something like this.. “Here’s what I need you to get done, and this is when it needs to be done by. I am confident that you can handle this, if you need my help though you know where to find me.”

    It’s important for them to have autonomy and also know that I trust them. If they are looking for advice I will be happy to offer it but I try not to do it up front. If they do make a mistake, there will be consequences but there will also be a learning/coaching opportunity which always adds value.

    • Emphasizing the “learning moment” is the key takeaway for me. We do our people an injustice if we don’t give them the freedom to succeed or fail on their own.

      Thanks for your comments, Frank. Always appreciated!


  2. Reblogged this on jmcolwill and commented:
    A common problem with Business leaders and Politicians is the “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you” patrician or dictarorial approach to feedback.

    They all have so many gatekeepers when it comes to informing them of a problem that they end up seeing none of it, and end up being self-deluded and arrogant in the belief that they are not wrong.
    Yesterday a UK policitician wanted to show how in touch with people by drawing on the “I spoke to an unemployed mother the other day”. Does he know that one out of thousands is not a representative sample, especially as that person was selected for him by researchers.

    We live in a society that shoots the messangers. So the message is not getting through.

    • Hi Jonathan. Thanks for your comments and for re-blogging my post.

      Getting pure, un-filtered feedback can be a challenge as leaders move into higher levels of power and responsibility. It’s easy to get trapped in the “ivory tower” and lose touch with the day-to-day issues your followers face. As you mentioned, getting the real message through to leaders is a key necessity.

      Best regards,


      • Agreed and unfortunate for the rest of us.

        Wasn’t this the moral of the children’s story The Kings New Clothes by Hans Christaan Anderson?

        “Look mum the Emperor has no clothes on!”

  3. I really like the idea of a Workplace Miranda. I do conflict coaching and training.

    Thought I might try my hand at this – here is another version I created….

    “You have the right to remain a self thinking adult. You are responsible for working with others in a respectful manner, and working with your co-workers to achieve our business goals and objectives to strengthen our company’s health, productivity and profitability. Anything you say or do can and will have natural consequences involved for which you will have to assume full responsibility. You have the right to seek my advice prior to making this decision but you are in control of your own choices. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

    • Tamara – I think that’s a great version of the workplace Miranda warning! Your statement was much more diplomatic and sensitive than mine!

      Thanks for stopping by and offering your comments.

      Take care,


  4. Reblogged this on Pål Arnesen and commented:
    This sums up the point I was trying to make in my last post. Very good article which emphasizes the value of empowering your employees.

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