Mike Tyson famously once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I’ve never been punched in the face and I don’t hope to be anytime soon, but I’ll take Iron Mike at his word that taking a hit from him would rattle my thinking a bit.

If I was to reword what he said in a way that’s a bit more applicable to my life right now, here’s what it would be: Every parent has a plan until he or she gets screamed at by a four-year-old. That one is definitely correct. I know from experience.

The Compliance Trap

Like any parent, I strive to be a good one. I’ve read some great books on parenting strategy. I’ve heard talks on tricks and tips. I’ve worked on defining my core values on who I want to be and what type of family my wife and I are hoping to create. All of these things are good. But at the end of the day, a screaming four year old who refuses to follow calmly communicated instructions has a way of demolishing hours and hours of book reading and parenting strategy.

compliance trapIt happened again a few days ago. My toddler refused to get into his car seat. I asked politely. I smiled. I reminded him about all of the fun things we were about to do. At this point in the equation, there was supposed to be an excited little boy who would get up into his chair, buckle himself in, and say with a twinkle in his eye, “That sounds delightful, father.” Instead, I got a window-shattering scream, followed by a firm, “NOOOOO!”

I’m not proud of it, but what came next was a fairly predictable progression of well-worn parenting tactics to get this child to do what I needed him to do. These tactics tend to happen in the same order, at least for me.


“Buddy, if you get into your seat right now, I’ve got three sour gummy worms (his favorite candy) waiting for you!”


“Young man, you have till the count of THREE to get into that chair OR ELSE!” And yes, I really did say, “young man.” I’m turning into my father.


I don’t say anything at all. Instead, as the bigger adult, I simply lift the screaming child and put him where I want him to go.

After finally putting him in his seat, I sat for a moment in my chair and thought with a sigh, “Mission accomplished.” But deep down I knew I hadn’t really accomplished anything. Sure, I had gotten him in his seat. He was compliant – he yielded to my will and was safely buckled in his seat (and sulking at that). But I’m older and bigger than him. Producing compliance in this instance wasn’t that great of an accomplishment.

The Snare of Short-Term Results

Compliance is a terrible word. I hate it for the same reasons I despise the word “tolerance.” I should have higher relational goals than to tolerate another person. And I want to produce more than mere compliance, whether it is from my family or a team member. I want to inspire enthusiasm, empowerment, and the excitement that happens when people come together to accomplish something good.

On the ladder of leadership, producing compliance has to be on the lowest rung. It may not even be right to call it leadership at all, especially if a person is relying solely on positional or physical power to get what they want. The difference between that and abuse is a slippery slope that none of us should want to fall into.

In our plans to make a lasting impact, let’s not be lulled into settling for short-term results and mere compliance.

I don’t think any of us set out to be low-rung leaders. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you want to be a source of long-lasting impact. And you also, like me, cringe at the word, “compliant.”

There’s a big challenge, though. I call it the compliance trap. It could also be called the snare of short-term results. It showed up with my toddler. I had achieved the short-term results I needed in that moment: he was sitting in his car seat. But I hadn’t set myself up great in the long run, because at some point that toddler will become a teenager. And bribery, yelling, and positional power won’t mean as much down the road.

Changing Tactics for Long-Term Results

I know I’m not the only one who has resorted to bribery, yelling, and positional power to achieve short-term results. It’s all over our culture today. It’s so strange because if any of us sat down and thought through the people who made the most significant impact in our lives, I’m betting it wouldn’t be because that person bribed, yelled, and used power to get us to do what they want. And yet, it’s so easy for me to turn to those tired methods to get my way, especially when I’m feeling pressure to get something done immediately. When life punches us in the face, it’s easy to forget our leadership plan and fall into some tendencies we didn’t even know were there within us.

I’m trying to do better. One way I’m starting is to be mindful of when I inadvertently do one of those three things, which is a humbling process to go through. It can be ironic at times, as well. Case in point, I found I tend to yell, “NO YELLING,” at my toddler.

I’m also trying to keep an ear out for compliance statements from those I lead. One teammate recently told me, “Hey, I’m a team player. I’ll go along with what you decide.” On the one hand, that’s not a bad thing for someone to say. But on the other hand, there are clues in that statement that demonstrate I had only produced compliance from this co-worker, not enthusiastic participation. I’m learning to press into those statements to see if there are any underlying issues I might need to address.

In all of our plans to make a lasting impact, let’s not be lulled into the trap of looking only for short-term results and mere compliance from others. It’s easy to do this, especially when we’re tired or life is hard. It takes an immense amount of creativity to lead others beyond the level of compliance, including four-year-olds. I certainly haven’t figured out how to do it all the time. I just know I don’t want to settle.

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As leaders we yearn to inspire enthusiasm, empowerment, and excitement in our teams. Occasionally we fall into the Compliance Trap. Here's how to avoid it.