What does it mean when a boss is described as having a "My way or the highway" approach?

Is it a negative connotation meaning they re a bad boss to work for?

14 Answers

  • 9 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    Hi Eric,

    Because a 'highway' is something along which you travel, the phrase "my way, or the highway" means that the task given you by the boss must be carried out in a particular way, and any deviation from that rule will not be tolerated, but likely result in dismissal (ie 'shown the door' to the outside world and the 'highway'). 

    Of course, in reality, the boss's threat may result merely in the task being given to someone else (but losing responsibility for the task would be viewed as incompetence and count heavily against the employee's future prospects).

    However, it is not an acceptable way to communicate.  Older wiser heads would think less of the speaker for several good reasons but first . . .

    there are many, many times when strict observance of a rule is vital, for example:

    a hospital operating theatre where matters of cleanliness such as the washing of hands, clean apparel, face masks, sterilisation of equipment, silence and total attentiveness cannot be left to the individual interpretation.  It is a case of the 'regulation way, or the highway'.

    Similarly, with the handling of loaded firearms at a club where many people are present with firearms.  Another understandable case of  'regulation way, or the highway'.

    The presentation of evidence at a criminal trial; the checking of a passenger plane before embarkation; emergency evacution procedures; working with explosives etc etc.  In such circumstances, there is no way buy 'my way, or the highway'.

    But now to return to the question of the boss who expresses himself in that way:

    there are very many methods by which a boss may manage a group of individuals, and however extreme any of the methods might be, I would suggest that each of those methods requires the boss to retain the respect of the group.

    If you treat workers with harshness, or disrespect, or contempt, I don't believe you can ever inspire them to great heights. 

    The best advice I ever had on management was from an old and very popular manager who said it was all about "kids and dogs".  He never explained further, and it took me several years before I realised the meaning: 

    you 'kicked' the dog immediately it needed it, and you petted it immediately after.  Same with kids; tell them off immediately and cuddle them while explaining where they went wrong.

    Looking back, I see that that was how he did it.  His workers just loved him.  They took the criticism without a hint of animosity, knowing no grudge would be held and that they would be immediately back in favour.

    Confusion arises in the mind when one sees military sergeants shouting at their soldiers!  Look how quickly they respond, fetching and carrying without a murmur of protest.  That's the way to get respect, isn't it!

    No!  The new recruits are all being knocked down to one basic level, to a point where no individualism is detectable!  Then, they are developed along a well-trodden path towards teamwork and group identity.  The shouting sergeants, with many years of experience, know that what they want to produce is a group who will fight to the death, not for queen or country, but for the group and for each other . . . and for the shouting sergeant.

    If your boss learns to be both, forthright and kind, you'll find yourself inviting him to your home for Christmas!

    But remember, most people do not have the capacity to lead, only to follow.  It isn't degrading to follow; you can't be a good leader unless you were a good follower.

  • 9 months ago

    You must do it his way or you are fired.  Makes sense.

    Unless he's one of those bosses you never see.  Then do it your way as no one else is around to help.

  • Anonymous
    9 months ago

    It means that you need to drag your boss onto the highway and tie him down. 

  • 9 months ago

    You pretty much have to do what your boss says. That's to be expected;

    No surprise there. If another co-worker says that, it is more of a negative

    connotation meaning something happened that they are not happy about.

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  • 9 months ago

    It means they only accept one way, which is their way - they would not be easy to work for if you disagreed with that approach.

  • 9 months ago

    It depends on how you like to work.  If you are fine with doing exactly as you are told to do (and many people are, many people prefer to be told what to do and how to do it), then you might actually enjoy a "my way or the highway" boss.  I don't take on a job to be a machine, myself, I get hired to use my brain and make decisions, so a "my way or the highway" boss or colleague would be a nightmare for me.

    I guarantee that I would see things differently from them and I would not feel comfortable doing as they forced me to do.  And that is what it would be: they would force me to obey. I can't do that.

  • 9 months ago

    This is considered to be an autocratic leadership style. It is not necessarily a negative thing, but it depends on the industry and business. 

    For example, in the military, you will find that all your superiors have a "my way or the highway" approach, and with good reason. It is to develop discipline in such a high-risk situation. 

    This approach is also common when subordinates are unskilled workers and hence do not have the skills or know-how to make informed decisions. 

    That being said, it can be bad in some situations, when skilled employees are unable to make informed decisions that would benefit the overall company. It can reduce employee motivation and lead to greater employee turnover. 

    So, context is important here. This autocratic leadership is not necessarily bad in some situations, but it can be unpleasant in other situations. 

    Hope this helped!

  • mokrie
    Lv 7
    9 months ago

    It just means he has rules of how to do things and if you follow those rules everything will be fine. Go against them and you'll be looking for another job. That doesn't make anyone a bad boss. Once you know all the rules it makes life easier.

  • Anonymous
    9 months ago

    It means you do things the way they want it done or you leave (think driving away on a highway).

  • 9 months ago

    it means do what they say or gtfo

  • 9 months ago

    Yes, that is a negative connotation. It implies that they do not accept feedback and are not willing to make changes if someone else suggests them. Or in other words, the boss think that he/she knows everything and always knows the best way.

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