I’m working with an executive right now who has an interesting and engaging leadership style. He likes to collaborate, he likes dialogue, he wants to hear what people have to say. He allows lots of input, and seems to detest strict hierarchy. I like this style, actually, because it is similar to my own.
But the coaching assignment is interesting because this executive’s style has created great benefits for him and his organization: he is loved, and people seem genuinely engaged in the work. But all realities create positives and negatives. And there is a downside to his style as well. When you constantly encourage input and dialogue, and eschew hierarchy, you create the possibility of organizational inertia, and that when a critical time comes, when an “executive” decision needs to be made quickly, your people may resent not being given the input they are used to. They are used to being heard, and when they are not, it can create surprise and dismay — anger, even.
When is it appropriate for you to have dialogue and input and create a “flat” organization? And when is it necessary for you to just make a decision because the situation demands it? That’s a hard line for many leaders (and parents also!) because we want people to be heard, and to feel that they are heard, but there are many times when the situation requires a quick decision that the leader knows will not be popular. Sometimes the leader does know more, because only the leader has the full perspective of all the implications. Sometimes an executive decision without much input from others is exactly what is required.
If you are a collaborative leader who loves dialogue and input and organizational “flatness,” I applaud you. It is a brave and engaging leadership style. But all styles have risks, and the risk here is that people’s expectation for input will become a weight around your decision-making process.
Manage expectations from the beginning… there will be times when lots of input is possible. And there will be times when you will be making the decision and largely keeping your own counsel. It won’t make you any less of a collaborative leader. In fact, it will make you much more effective.
Have a great day.