Would You Prefer Assertive Employees Or Submissive Employees?


Out of the following 5 countries, which would you think is the one most likely to follow the hierarchy, and all the rules and regulations without question? (A state called High PDI = Power Distance Index).

Morocco, the Phillipines, South Korea, Mexico or Brazil?

And of the following 5 countries which would you select as being the country least likely to be hog tied by hierarchy, rules and regulations? (Low PDI).

Ireland, USA, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa?

The comparison between the two very different groups is actually made in the book ‘Outliers' by Malcolm Gladwell and was the result of research conducted into frequency of plane crashes in 19 different countries. According to the research, the countries that had the most plane crashes did so because the pilots and co-pilots didn't question power and control or the rules and regulations. (answers at the end of this article).

What on earth have plane crashes got to do with corporates, businesses and employees?

Q: Would you want employees who follow the rules to the letter (high PDI) or would you want employees who ask questions and challenge thinking (low PDI)?

Q: When does asking questions move from being creative and curious to being viewed as irritating and even challenging valid authority? And where are the boundaries?

The last thing in the world we should want to do in an organization, is to stifle creativity, but there have to be limits. I get regular calls from managers and team leaders saying ‘Help I have an employee who is totally out of control and no-one can manage them. They simply don't fit our culture, they are chewing up hours management time wanting to change things that simply can't be changed, or are challenging authority when that challenge has gone beyond what we believe is acceptable.

There are boundaries in every organisation, and there have to be boundaries otherwise we could find an organisation consumed by anarchy. (Slightly different for pilots who are about to crash into the side of a mountain; we hope then that the co-pilot would have the courage to challenge the pilot instantly and even wrestle the controls if need be.)

However, if you as an owner or manager believe that the boundaries and systems you have in place are realistic; and if after being challenged by an employee - and after having given due consideration to their input and still decided that the boundary stays, then here are some things you can say that won't stifle creativity and won't beat your employees into submission so they never challenge or question anything ever again:

  • Thanks for that thought Jane - l agree that it might look as though xyz system I slow and cumbersome, but right now, it is the best we have been able to come up with, and believe me we have tried a variety of different ways. However, if you see us doing anything that doesn't look right, always feel free to challenge us. We can be wrong sometimes.


  • John I know that you think Mary your supervisor (or co-worker) doesn't support you when you come up with new ideas; however, Mary is one of our most valued leaders and we would appreciate it if you do have ideas for doing things differently, that you bring them to the regular meetings rather than taking up her valuable time outside those meetings. We value and appreciate innovation in this organization, and will always support ideas for improvement, but we do have to do that in a structured way - and we have decided that our regular meetings are places to discuss ideas so that everyone can have input and involvement.

We never want to stifle creativity - however, having a clearly defined process for changing anything in our business, saves everyone's time and often their sanity.

Answers to the PDI questions - the 5 highest PDI (conformity) (and the highest number of plane crashes):

1. Brazil
2. South Korea (Remember the Korean airlines crash?)
3. Morocco
4. Mexico
5. Phillipines

The 5 lowest PDI (and the least plane crashes):

15. United States
16. Ireland
17. South Africa
18. Australia
19. New Zealand (the safest airline in the world)

Ann Andrews CSP



Ann Andrews CSP specialises in working with high performing teams and showing managers how to deal with poor performance.

You may also like:

Hoof It!
By Dr Richard Norris
$19.95 USD
Find Out More

Filed under Performance Evaluation. Posted by The Corporate Toolbox on