Steve Roesler is an award-winning writer and speaker on leadership, management, and career management topics and can be followed online at the popular All Things Workplace website.
He has designed and delivered leadership and communication programs for some of the world’s largest organizations and has more than 30 years of contributing to speaking, professional development, and high-level executive coaching. He is also the two-time past winner of the Best of Leadership Blogs.
When People Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
by Steve Roesler (posted 4/29/10)
Western culture likes to wave the “total participation” flag when it comes to business decisions and implementation. I’ve spent time in this series discussing the importance of involvement and erring on the side of inclusion. The assumption, though, is that people have some degree of willingness and ability to do what needs to be done to make the desired change.
But what happens if people are unwilling, unable, or both?
General George S. Patton who, while never accused of being warm, fuzzy, and participative, was successful by anyone’s standards when it came to quickly making changes in the worst of circumstances. And the attrition rate in Patton’s armies was the lowest despite the greatest level of exposure.
The key was this: The average soldier may not have known what to do in an overwhelming situation and even if he did, the consequences might create a sense of hesitation due to uncertainty or fear. Patton did know what to do and how to do it. And he knew how to explain the benefits and consequences of action vs. inaction (if needed).
Quickly assessing willingness and ability–then leading a myriad of changes and changes-within-changes accordingly–can be seen in a study of his actions.
What happens when you do a quick assessment of your “change” and realize: “I’m not seeing a groundswell of support or the ability to get there even if there were support!”
What To Do
In the absence of either or both of those factors, effective leaders become directive: They tell people what to do, show them how to do it, bring them along the learning curve, and don’t back off until the level of performance required can be achieved without close leadership. To do anything less would be to treat people badly. Think about it: If you have to do something but don’t understand why or how, aren’t you looking for someone to step in and offer the necessary context, structure, and teaching?
Read the rest of the post here.
Steve raises one of the complexities of leadership in this post. We want to engage people, empower them and avoid micro-management, yet there are times when we must step in and serve them more directly. To detach and lead by a principle (however valuable and pure the intention) is to not lead at all.
To solely espouse a particular approach to leadership or expect that the world could be so simple to allow that to work would be, well, simple-minded. As leaders we must be guided by principles, yet flexible in our approach. The best leaders keep their focus on two things – their vision and their people. With those two things in mind, they make choices regularly as to how to best serve and lead.
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