Have you ever noticed that when people don’t like a decision, they start obsessing about process? They complain about the timing of an announcement (not on a Friday but on a Monday) or how it was made (it shouldn’t have been via email but on paper, not via paper but in person, not in a large group but one on one) or how they weren’t adequately consulted or that they didn’t know a decision was about to be made.
A leader can tell someone what to do and get compliance, but that is not leadership. It’s just direction. And the result can be a disgruntled team.
Rather, a leader is someone who motivates others toward a common vision. Usually people have more motivation if they have some hand in shaping the direction the group is going.
On the other hand, a leader can’t let a group just go anywhere it wants. There have to be some boundaries or limits. A leader is responsible to his or her boss, to a board, to shareholders, to customers. A leader doesn’t have total independence. So how do you achieve the balance?
Leaders can use a four-step process (or variations on it) to help gain buy-in from the team and reduce (though probably never eliminate) unhappiness.
1. Tell the team what the issue is, what needs to be decided, and the parameters or limits of what the final decision needs to entail. (As Max DePree says, this type of leadership is called defining reality.)
2. Then give all the stakeholders (everyone who wants to or who is appropriate) a chance to weigh in and listen well.
3. Next tell the team what your preliminary decision is, how you are leaning and offer them the opportunity (before a given deadline) to offer any final reactions they have before you make and announce your final decision. And then, of course, really listen.
4. Announce your final decision.
This process can take place in 60 minutes or in 60 days. It depends on the complexity and importance of the issue at stake. A wise leader, of course, will truly listen and seek to incorporate as much of the input from the team as possible throughout the four steps.
There are exceptions, of course. When a matter is urgent, a process like this may just not be possible. But if folks are included regularly, they will likely be able to handle the exceptions.
Following these four steps honors what each member of the team has to offer but also honors the appropriate role of the leader in guiding the process and making a decision.