Below is a dialogue between two colleagues. One of them Paul, is upset with his manager because he believes that while she preaches ‘collaboration’, she is in fact (to him) a hypocrite. His colleague Aiden provides a different perspective and eventually enables Paul to see that maybe his manager isn’t the hypocrite he thinks she is.
Paul: “Amanda is a hypocrite!”
Aiden: “What do you mean?”
Paul: “Well, she says that she wants us to collaborate, so I gave her my opinion about the Seymour incident and she’s pulled rank on me. I’ve been told that it’s her decision and that if I do what I said I was going
to do, then I’ll be in trouble.”
Aiden: “Hmmm. You’re saying that Amanda has asked you for your opinion, you’ve given it and she’s made a decision that is not what you want. Is that correct?”
Paul: “Yes. That is exactly what has happened. She’s a hypocrite!”
Aiden: “Paul, let’s slow down for a second. What behaviour does Amanda display when you believe that she has listened to you?”
Paul: “Well, that’s easy. She does what I want. That proves that she has listened. After all, that’s what collaboration is, isn’t it?”
Aiden: “Well, not exactly. If we slow down and listen to what you’re saying it sounds like Amanda has to do what you want otherwise she isn’t seen to be listening to you. Is that what you mean?”
Paul: “No, not really. But she asked me to give my opinion and then she didn’t take it. What’s the point of asking me what I think?”
Aiden: “The point is that Amanda is seeking more information by getting your opinion. Think back over the past few times that Amanda has asked your opinion, have there been any times when she has appeared to listen to you?”
Paul: “Yes, a couple. There was the Monroe issue and the Pothole issue where Amanda’s final decision was very close to what I thought we should do.”
Aiden: “So, from your perspective Amanda does listen sometimes?”
Paul: “Yes, sometimes.”
Aiden: “What’s your definition of when Amanda isn’t listening to you?
Paul: “That’s obvious. When her decisions are different to what I want.”
Aiden: “Paul, Can you hear what you are saying? It seems to me that you’re saying that unless Amanda’s decisions equal what you want, then she’s being a hypocrite because she hasn’t listened to you. Yet you agree that there have been times when her decisions have been very similar to what your input recommended.”
Paul: “I’m listening” nodded Paul.
Aiden: “Look at it this way. When you’ve been a boss in the past, don’t you expect your positional authority to count for something from time to time?”
Aiden: “In that case, isn’t it possible that Amanda really has listened? In taking your opinion on board she has decided to do something different. She has then used her positional authority, which she is entitled to use, to make the decision. What’s wrong with that?”
Paul: “Okay. I suppose that you have a point. In fact she did say that she was using her positional authority to ‘make the call’. I took offence to that for some reason, but I’m not sure why”.
Aiden: “Great. I’m glad you’ve been open to having this chat.”
Paul; “Yeah, so I am I. I was going to go and do something that probably wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. In fact,, I probably would have undermined Amanda if I had continued with the action that I was planning to do. I suppose there are just times when I’m not going to fully understand Amanda’s decisions. I suppose I’ll just need to trust her and keep asking questions. That can’t hurt, can it?
Aiden: “Of course not. And my experience with Amanda is that she does listen and does try to explain why her decisions are what they are. I think that sometimes we don’t listen to her because we’re so focussed on what we want. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us all to have a chat about these issues at our next meeting.
Paul: “You really think that she’d be up for it?”
Aiden: “Yeah, I do.”
This dialogue highlights how powerful mental models (see How what you think affects what you see) can be and how they can influence what we see and don’t see. In this situation a manager who collaborates with her team is seen as being a hypocrite simply because she at times, makes decisions that aren’t exactly what her team members want her to do.
Collaboration exists when people work as a team. Teamwork requires members to perform their role from both a technical role and team role (see What Makes People Tick Personality Profile & Job Fit Assessments) perspective. In this context it is fair and reasonable for a leader to exert their positional authority from time to time when making decisions. Providing the leader is constantly seeking and absorbing input from team members, there may be times when the leader has to make a decision and that decision may not be popular with the rest of the team. The nature of a leadership role means that leaders are exposed to information that other staff are not able to access. (at least not in the same timeframe). This means that sometimes leaders have access to information as an input to their decision-making that other team members may not yet know. This can create a paradox for the leader who wishes to be known for their collaborative style because there are times (such as employee disciplinary processes) when a leader is not able to share all the information with their team members.
A way to manage this situation is for the leader to declare when they are expressing a view from the perspective of their formal position and authority, compared to when they are simply expressing a view. For such a system to work the leader will need to conduct a series of conversations with their team about how such a system should work. The intention of the system is to enable team members to be able to speak candidly with their ‘boss’ (see the video Transparency – How leaders create a culture of candor).
If conversations such as the ones just described had been conducted throughout Paul and Aiden’s team’s history, it is unlikely that Paul would have been so convinced that his manager, Amanda, was a hypocrite.
What have been your experiences with regard to the challenge of having a collaborative leadership style, with making decisions when required?
Please feel free to ask questions and comment on this article.