Monday, January 28, 2013

The Posts On Which You Stand

"Never commit your team unless you are confident your team will support your decision." - Christopher Avery, Ph.D.

The simplest way I could explain this statement is this:  keep your decision-making process transparent as much as you can.  If you plan to play your cards close to your chest, make sure that you are prepared to do the things you would rather not do.  Because if others won't, somebody has to, and if you are the one bringing the change, you can only convince others to do the same if you are the first volunteer.

The second thing is that for certain things, letting the team come to a decision is sometimes more important than making the decision itself.  Of course, no leader or manager would allow his group to go around with no one at the reins guiding the way.  My experience in volunteer organizations has taught me this: no commitment is stronger than one reached by the members together.  There may be times one has to cajole, exhort, or leave subtle signs, but in the end, only buy-in will secure the commitment to a course of action.  In the corporate world it would be the rare few who would stick their neck out, so reaching a group decision is not that easily forged as it should be, even though the forms of "votes" are often practiced.  

When the vote does come, it normally comes as a form of lower agreement, voting for that which is least disagreeable.  Much like the United Nations, don't expect committees in this part of the world accomplishing something unless there is some form of benevolent dictatorship going on.

It cannot be avoided at times that in place of consensus a leader must make decisions because of necessity or urgency.  The most commonplace example is that when a father has to make a career move, everyone else around him is affected.  Funny that I should think about that since the Arab leadership and management models are mainly based on paternalism.  Every time I attend a leadership or management conference, one pervasive thought is to how to best handle the "needs" of  employees as if they were babes in a wood and could not decide for themselves.  In a sense, with the wide demarcation between "labor" and "management" the mindset becomes the reality in practice.

Which brings us back to the simple statement of Dr. Avery.  Many of our managers and senior staff make commitments without being mindful of what it means for their team.  A majority of them believe that with their authority they can push for what they want, whenever they want.  And it becomes even more stressful and glaring that instead of pushing toward a common goal when we get to the corporate level, the thinking becomes more parochial and focuses more on turf wars and control.

It actually challenges me to get around this kind of mentality on a daily basis.  Naturally I try to insulate my staff from the worst.  Sometimes I am surprised by how so many of my colleagues are refreshed by my inclusive approach.   Pleasant surprises, and nothing but.

There are days, and these days start growing to weeks, when sorting out through the muck becomes the order of the day instead of doing something else that leads to our business objectives.  It does become exasperating, but there is no room for one to set upon a high horse and stand in judgment.  One can be so right, or subscribe to the "right" kind of ideas, and yet still end up so wrong in a situation.

In the end, it is your team, your colleagues/peers, and your subordinates who will carry you.  Abuse them, and be disabused accordingly.

Making a commitment in the group sense means involving them in the thinking process, and getting each member to buy in.  Even if I know intellectually they are wrong, it wouldn't make sense if I subscribe only to my line of thinking and not try to engage them in theirs.  I find that this works not only in the business sense but in other areas as well.  My black may be their white, for all I know.

I can go on and on by harping on the definition of a vision, building a common set of values, establishing esprit de corps - but there is enough room for that in another day.  There is one thing - it doesn't matter whether there is a vision-mission in an organization, because the main driving force is the group's self-belief that for every person that is there, there is someone else who has his or her back.

A group with that kind of cohesion becomes a group of world-beaters.  Its members are the posts on which successful managers stand.

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