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Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Bad Leaders Stifle Dissent

How do bad leaders stifle dissent?

1) Your people never see you say no. You never disagree or challenge the people you work for, so your people never learn from you how to do this with purpose. You send the very clear message that “no” is not acceptable around here.

2) People that have told you no are gone. You have systematically removed from your inner circle everyone that disagreed or challenged your policies and decisions. But that’s ok, because everyone knows they were not team players, or were disloyal or disrespectful. This is the rhetoric of conformity and exclusion.

3) Failing to accept differences of opinion and pushing beyond a reasonable point to obtain uniform public agreement. Your people don't feel free to voice disagreement because you hound them until they change their mind (or at least that's what they appear to be doing.)

There will always be times when leaders need to override their team members--and making that decision wisely is a key element of effective leadership. When a leader makes that choice, it's usually advisable to devote some time to discussion to see if common ground can be found and/or to persuade the team.

But if common ground can't be found, and persuasion's not effective, and the leader still believes that overriding the team is the right way to go, they need to accept their team's right to disagree and trust that the team can still deliver on their mandate. Pushing further to extract (superficial) agreement demonstrates a lack of trust (in them and in your own authority), leads to intractable arguments and/or hypocrisy, and insures that you'll hear fewer honest opinions in the future.

(And if you don't recognize Humprey Bogart as Captain Queeg, get The Caine Mutiny on your LoveFilm queue ASAP!)

Building on your Strengths as a Leader

Great leaders build on their strengths and manage the consequences of their weaknesses. So how can you develop as a leader? Let’s explore the following steps.

1) You can clarify the specific area in which you want to be a leader.

One key point to remember is that there are many kinds of leadership. You may want to focus on people leadership, thought leadership, strategic leadership, problem-solving leadership, project leadership, creative leadership, artistic leadership or whatever. So start by clarifying the niche in which you can want to be a ‘leader’. After focusing on a specific area, go even deeper. If you flourish as a ‘people leader’, for example, identify the type of work that turns you on. It could be leading people when setting-up a pilot project; running a call centre; organising an event; working to meet a deadline or whatever. What is your niche? Try completing the following sentence.

The specific area in which I want to be a leader is:


2) You can clarify your strengths as a leader in this area.

Start by clarifying where you consistently deliver ‘As’, ‘Bs’ and ‘Cs’ in your chosen area as a leader. You will have talents in other areas - as a professional, as a knowledge worker or whatever - but this focuses on you as a leader. Consider the following points when doing the exercise. First, be brutally honest, because this is the best way forward. Second, try to be super specific, especially when giving examples of your strengths. Third, if you wish, get a reality check. Ask two or three people who you respect to give specific feedback. One person explained:

“My ‘As’ are: communicating a vision; building a core leadership team; and guiding a business to success. My ‘Bs’ are: chasing people to do what they have promised to do – I assume they are going to do them; working with people who want to tell me about history – I like to look to the future. My ‘C’s are: doing detail in those areas where I have no interest – though I have extreme attention to detail in the areas where I am interested.”

Focusing on the area in which you aim to be a leader, try completing the following sections.

The activities in which I deliver ‘As’ as a leader in my chosen area are:


The activities in which I deliver ‘Bs' as a leader in my chosen area are:


The activities in which I deliver ‘Cs’ as a leader in my chosen area are:


3) You can build on your strengths as a leader.

Great leaders maximise their ‘A’ talents to and minimise the consequences of their weaknesses. “I am an old-style ‘Red Adair’ leader,” said one person. “I love leading a hit-team of IT experts who move into a company, solve their computer problems – and then move onto the next challenge. I am hopeless at the financial aspects of running a business - so I employ great people who take care of the side.” How can you follow these principles in your own way? Try completing the following sentences.

As. The specific things I can do to build on my ‘As’ as a leader are:


Bs & Cs. The specific things I can do to manage the consequences of my ‘Bs’ and ‘Cs’ are:


My action plan. Bearing these answers in mind, the specific things I can do to develop as a leader are: