Chapter 5: Enabling ego free discussion.

Do you want your team’s honest opinion? (Or not?!? 😳) In the initial approach at interview and with any first impression, the shape of a new relationship is formed. The first impression is often right but not always. There’s a thing called the ‘halo effect’ and something else called ‘unconscious bias’. Both can distort your view of a new person, producing a favourable or negative impression depending on your subconscious preferences. To overcome this skewed perception, the interviewer needs to be able to see beyond themselves. Tricky.

If the leader succeeds in this, then the team they recruit will be a good balance of skills and personalities. If not, the group will probably look much like the leader. Great for getting the same kind of responses. Not so good for encouraging original thought as most individuals will want to conform to the status quo. 

To enable ego free discussion in a multi faceted group, the leader needs to be prepared to look foolish. To act outside the accepted norms and make suggestions or hear suggestions that may be rubbish! Weirdly, the preparedness to look foolish enables others to risk looking foolish. As a result, this leadership approach prevents individuals blocking others from contributing. The rule that ‘no suggestion is a bad suggestion’ actually plays out in reality, as the leader has made seemingly stupid suggestions.

Enabling open discussion facilitates collaboration, instead of politicised debate, instead of creating conflict or factions of opinion, which may or may not be expressed. In many organisations, workers appear to toe the party line when in fact they are passively resisting the change because they do not agree with it. To ensure that individuals are in agreement or are expressing their objections, the environment and leadership needs to have mechanisms to facilitate open dissent, with no negative consequences for that individual. There will always be early adopters, always people who disagree, the key is to be aware of the whys and the origins of these opinions. It’s important at both ends of the spectrum! If the early adopters adopt because they want to please the leader, without questioning the validity of their perspective, then their support may be unhealthy for the organisational direction. If the people who disagree are not given space to fill in the detail of their objection, then they may just be seen as negative, instead of the leader in question looking at the flaws in their own proposal. In both cases, the organisation and their strategy is at risk of failing.

Breaking old behaviors, habits or opinions, is a difficult thing to do! It requires strength, determination and drive as well as empathy, the ability to analyse and the charisma to communicate. Not all leaders have all of these skills, so it is crucial that the senior team and advocates within the organisation have different personalities, styles and attributes (see Chapter 3).

In Chapter 4, I spoke of expanding the space for discussion by remaining silent. Another alternative is to present an idea, and subsequently introduce the obvious criticism opening the doors for others to add any concerns. This way the idea is thoroughly critiqued and by way of exposing the discussion, any dissenters are more likely to see the positive in the proposal.

From my experience, an organisation that works with a level of guidance, a perspective of equality and the acceptance of all walks of life is more likely to succeed. Particularly in times of exceptional or exponential change, momentum can only be achieved through empowerment instead of control. The tradition of senior leadership exclusively carving out strategy and tactics and then imposing these on the people that report to them, will only reach a plateau of disruption. True disruption and change comes from crowdsourcing ideas. Ideas for new products, new approaches, new methods of teamwork, new strategies to excel. Disruption by its nature is uncomfortable, so the key to a seismic shift in culture, is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Not a state many leaders will experience until they truly delegate power to their teams, observe and respond to external trends and adapt to the likely needs of future generations well before those generations become staff or clients.

This is Chapter 5 of my book, Leadership Now. Please contact me with any feedback. The book is being published as I go along on my consultancy website:

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Love Ruth x


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