Every Manager Needs to Be Able to Recognize These 3 Things

“What lies in our power to do,
 lies in our power not to do.”


In the average day, week or month of working, most of us encounter a wide variety of people and personalities. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to realize each one of them has unique characteristics and qualities. However, given each of our unique containers, I also believe there are similarities as well…common threads woven through groups of people. As a manager, leader or just someone that goes to work every day — sometimes it’s valuable to step back and look for some of those threads…it can help you to recognize and separate the common sense from the nonsense.

Here are three of those threads I am referring to. Stick with me and see what you think:

  • Willpower
  • Won’tpower
  • Wantpower

NOTE: While you may not find two of these words in a dictionary, I’m the one writing, so I’m using them.

I’ll start with “willpower.” While your thoughts may drift toward things like sticking with a new exercise regimen or stopping some unhealthy habit, my definition is more directly related to the attitude, energy and resolve someone has in a work setting. To me, at the core of willpower lies determination. In a work environment, it’s about taking on the things in front of you and doing what’s necessary to move them forward. It’s about not being deterred by obstacles, by politics in an organization, by how things “have always been done.” It’s about moving forward even if the people around you are more consumed with “won’tpower” or “wantpower”.

Now, don’t confuse willpower with assertiveness or even a positive attitude. While both have their place, I think willpower is much bigger and more powerful. I believe it’s more about the complete person than it is a trait of that person. People that possess willpower are ones that make a team, a project or an organization, evolve. In this context, I don’t see willpower as something the average person wakes up and focuses on. They’re not getting out of bed and thinking, “I’m going to have an enormous amount of willpower today.” I think willpower tends to be inherent in a person…a component of who they are. For me, these are the people I want on my team and with whom I want to surround myself. They are the people that “will” get things done.

On the other side of the street lies “won’tpower.” While it may not be intuitive, I believe won’tpower has a lot in common with willpower; it’s just flipped on its head. As determined as people with willpower are, those with won’tpower are just as determined. However, instead of moving forward, a person with won’tpower drives towards things staying the same or possibly moving backward. Also, like willpower, I don’t think won’tpower is something the average person wakes up and focuses on. I think it is inherent in what or how they do things…a component of who they are. I tend to find people with won’tpower make themselves known very quickly, through both words and actions.

Won’tpower needs to be dealt with quickly. If not, it can go from being a nuisance to being a major impediment within an organization. If you’re a manager, you need to determine the best course of action. It doesn’t take magic, just good management. Use a process of regular 1:1s, consistent coaching and be very clear about pointing out the actions or words that you believe demonstrate the won’tpower. There’s a possibility the person doesn’t even realize they are projecting won’t power. It could be something that’s crept up over years and consumed them.

Over time, if you can’t affect the won’tpower in a positive way, you need to take stronger action. Won’tpower is nonsense. I don’t want it on my team and I don’t want to be surrounded by it. I can assure you; these people “won’t” get things done.

Last on the list may not stand out as readily as the first two, but is critical to understand and recognize. Unlike the first two, “wantpower” consists of very little and perhaps no, determination. At times it may start out looking like willpower, but over time will prove not to be. Wantpower is when a person wants to take something on, talks about finishing a project or taking on a task, but does nothing about it. The words are there, the “want” is there, but the action is nowhere to be found. A big area of risk is not being able to weed out wantpower from willpower during the hiring process. What may look like willpower when it’s hired may end up as wantpower when the rubber meets the road. There’s no worse feeling a hiring manager can have than realizing this…too late. Take my word for it.

Like willpower, I believe there are plenty of people with an inherent wantpower as well as won’tpower. As a leader in everyday situations… maybe you’re building a team from scratch, taking one over that already exists, looking to breathe some life into one you’ve been managing. Maybe you’re a sales professional and you’re evaluating the likelihood for a decision maker to choose you or your product over your competitor in a selling situation. Being able to recognize, assess, and manage “wantpower” and “won’tpower” is just as important as recognizing or having, willpower.

To me, understanding and recognizing the difference between willpower, won’tpower and wantpower is common sense.

What about you?

Until next time, try and avoid the nonsense.