You may have heard this title phrase many times before. But have you thought about it? The implication for leaders is: By not involving your whole team in addressing challenges you are choosing to sub-optimize your performance.
Why would anyone choose that?
Leaders often rely too heavily on their own inherently limited views of a situation. They make strategic decisions, allocate resources and create future expectations without using readily available information. These leaders assume a lot — about what others know, don’t know, want, don’t want, can do, can’t do, etc. — without actually testing those assumptions. While some decisions must be made quickly and can only be taken by the leader (that’s the leader’s job!), to disregard available inputs is surely not better than at least taking stock of what’s easily knowable before plans are put in place.
When I’ve asked leaders why they don’t get their whole team involved from the start, often they initially respond that they need to move quickly and know enough already. As we discuss this further, inevitably they come to the real answer: Engaging a group can take a lot of effort and they don’t know how to start.
Indeed engaging a group can take a lot of effort, especially if the leader has not been doing this all along. But most members of a group will welcome the chance to provide input. For major strategic choices or resource allocation decisions, a process that is focused on a few team members will be better than doing nothing. Leaders must ensure their beliefs about key issues are similar to those of their team — and when they are not, they must understand why. Without a shared set of assumptions and goals, any decisions from the leader are more likely to be the wrong choice, cause confusion and/or be undermined by their team.
There are many ways for a leader to engage a group to test his own views. An example of a simple process is for the leader to make his assumptions and expectations explicit with his leadership team. Literally write them down, share them, and ask for comment. In this way leaders can immediately identify gaps in shared understanding and areas for further investigation. This “quick and dirty” approach almost always yields benefits by creating an opportunity for critical discussions and information sharing.
For important issues involving major strategic choices, organizational complexity and diverse stakeholders, leaders may choose a more comprehensive approach such as an alignment process facilitated by an external alignment expert. This will ensure confidentiality, anonymity and thoroughness in gathering data, leading to higher-quality outputs. The greater the divergence of opinions, the greater the need to proactively drive to a common set of assumptions to ensure things go smoothly down the road.
Everyone will have a point of view. Some opinions may be well informed, correct, wrong, shared, not shared, etc — but all of them will be relevant for execution. In the end the leader will still have to make the key decisions and bring everyone onboard with what must be done. By tapping into this rich trove of perspectives early, leaders are able to deliver better strategies, more efficient resourcing plans and more sustainable results.
So when you find yourself saying “I already know enough about this situation.” Ask yourself “Why am I so sure?”