When it comes to exemplifying poor leadership, here’s one situation at a company retreat. Ken was a partner in one of the top three remodeling firms in Texas. The purpose of this retreat was for the partners and senior management team to discuss new ideas and growth strategies as well as year-end goals. It was an opportunity to get together, removed from the daily stresses of the office.
The first day consisted of meetings, outings and exercises; all were going well. That afternoon, Ken was on his way to a small, invitation-only breakout group with several of the senior managers and partners.
The meeting was going smoothly, given the diversity and dynamics of the group. Ken was doing a great job facilitating the agenda, which had been approved by the partners — all except one. It seemed that Buck, the founder of the company, a gray-haired, well-respected, sharp elderly gentleman, never saw the e-mail that contained the agenda.
Although Buck is no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, something on the agenda not only caught his eye but stirred up quite a strong reaction. Buck then delivered an edgy opinion on a particular topic listed in the meeting’s agenda that dealt with new business development initiatives.
Specifically, the firm was considering hiring an outside marketing firm to assist with their PR campaign. “After all these years of sustained double-digit growth, you think we now need to go out and hire someone to do what we’ve always done naturally and quite successfully on our own? I remember about 10 years ago we retained the services of a PR firm with poor results. Since when are we no longer competent enough to handle this internally?”
After Buck shared his thoughts, the conversation just stopped. No more open forum. No more safe, open sharing, no more flowing dialogue. An issue that, less than 10 minutes ago, had full buy-in and consensus from the team regarding the direction to go had now gone full circle, right back to the beginning. It was as if a new topic had just been introduced, which had no current buy-in or solution. No one said a word until Ken redirected the conversation to the next item on the agenda.
If you’re a manager, because you are their superior, you have a certain degree of influence over how your staff feels about certain things. Buck didn’t make any decisions. He basically said, “This isn’t the way it used to be. Why is it different now? Agree with me or experience my wrath.”
Managers and business owners have the power to shut down a conversation or open up a dialogue. Often, they don’t realize how much influence they have over their staff and how influential they can be without trying.
When a manager takes a strong position and makes a statement like, “Here’s the solution” or “Here’s how it is,” it removes any opportunity for others to contribute a different and potentially better idea. And then we wonder why people don’t take more initiative.
There’s a difference between sharing an opinion or idea and sharing an expectation. It’s one thing if the manager or boss shares an opinion that allows the dialogue and flow of the conversation to continue moving in a positive, collaborative direction. It’s entirely different when the manager shares an expectation with a strong agenda or ultimatum behind it. An opinion or idea from the boss opens up further conversation. An expectation shuts it down.
Buck could have kept the collective conversation moving forward with an approach like this. “Here’s one thought that I want to put on the table. It still has some wet paint on it and needs some further development. I would love to hear your responses and how you feel about it so that we can incorporate everyone’s ideas and create something even better.”
With an approach like this, it is likely that managers will get a response that encourages unfiltered collaboration and multiple contributions.