Leader or Participant?

My colleague, Chris Hutchinson, was recently responding to a question from a person wondering if it was better to be a facilitator or a participant in a group/team change process. I think the question is bigger than that; I believe it extends to life in the USA itself. I think over time we have become a society of voyeurs, forced intimidation into cyber numbness, caused by the overwhelming barrage of media and messages. In short, I think one can be lucky if you count yourself even as a participant, let alone a leader.


Since the subject of “the masses” is far beyond the scope of this weekly missive, let’s focus on leaders and decision making. They have it tough – no guides readily available, forced to make decisions that are guaranteed to not please everyone; hopefully and maybe they will please someone. What’s the answer?


I think it is time for a new definition of leadership. Historically, there have been 3 basic styles:

  1. Autocratic

  2. Democratic

  3. Laissez-Faire

Over time, with analysis, #'s 1 & 3 don't work very well and are not self-sustaining. The democratic model - #2 - works the best and is adaptable according to an individuals' personal style. For example, I tend to follow this principle; ask for everyone's input and then I make a decision - so probably to one side of that style.


Other leaders that I have admired over the years have been at the other end of spectrum, allowing the team to vote and the majority rules, no matter what the leader wants to do. This builds loyalty from staff and they also enjoy their work environment, but allowing some bad decisions to be carried out (even though the leader might know they are bad), and it can be costly, in terms of time and money.


The best leaders that I have known fall in the middle of that style, sometimes overruling group votes and sometimes not.  


Back to Chris’ point; in response to his reader, was that effective leaders can't simultaneously participate in a (decision making) process, lead and push on a process, and facilitate that same process. His belief, borne out by a fair amount of practical application, “is that leaders can really only pick two of the three. When leaders try to do all three, team members feel that the outcome is being over controlled by the leader. As a result there isn't enough positive conflict, and subsequently the team doesn't get deep commitment.” For example, when Chris tried to facilitate the process with his own team while also pushing for what he thought was important, team members either cried foul or withheld their thoughts because (as he found out later) they figured he was going to get what he wanted anyway.


Reading on, Chris surmises that, “as leader, I'm just too close to the challenges. Even though I try to emotionally disengage from what and how we've been doing up to now, I can't help but have some of those feelings leak through. Those feelings are picked up by my team and the result is a smaller set of possibilities that we could get with a group process for decision making.”  


I believe a partnership with a great leader, coupled with great commitment from the team as they make decisions, can make the best impact on having a truly effective and high performing team, no matter what business you are in.


Editor’s Note: This blog was inspired by my colleague, Chris Hutchinson, CEO of Trebuchet Group. Please excuse any paraphrasing in advance, Chris.