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Managers, no tyranny necessary

Posted by Chad O'Connor  June 26, 2013 11:00 AM

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If we're human, we think we're better than we really are, at least according to some recent studies. It's not just in Lake Woebegon that everyone is above average.

Even given our self-inflation, my experience is that many managers are smarter and know better where their organizations need to go than the people that work for them. Perhaps it's a result of promotions actually going to those that merit them, or perhaps it's just that the position of a manager provides a more strategic perspective.

Regardless, it still makes perfect sense to solicit participation from the organization. Two heads are usually better than one, people generally have more in depth knowledge of their job than their boss, and participation leads to the commitment and engagement that drives high performance.

Some managers tend to fall into the mode of those bad elementary school teachers we all had to suffer with. They simply tell us what we're supposed to do, and if that doesn't work, they tell us again in a louder voice. This approach didn't work in school and it doesn't work with adults that resent being treated as children.

Other managers defer to the group even when their ideas are clearly better. Democracy and self-determination are noble, but not at the expense of the performance of the business.

The best approach is to account for the limitations of our decision-making and the advantages of leveraging the psychological dynamic of the organization. Here's how to do it.

Rather than tell people what to do, allow the team to work through the same process you have. Your determination of the direction to move in was based on an analysis of data and an evaluation of options. Give the team the access to the data and the options, and see what they come up with.

Perhaps they'll agree, but having participated in making the decision, they'll bring more ownership to its implementation. Or they'll disagree, in which case, it makes sense to dig a little deeper into the issues and understand why they see things differently. Human decision-making is often biased and it's helpful to have a reality check.

When it comes right down to it, the manager then has three options, which should be shared upfront with the team:
1) the manager goes with the team's recommendation
2) the manager goes with their own decision and presents the reasons why
3) the manager explains that they'll think about it for a couple of weeks and come back with a final decision.

This is a simple approach, which enables the manager to foster participation with all of its benefits, to have his or her own thinking tested, and to still be in control of the decision-making process. No tyranny is necessary.

Charles S. Jacobs is founder and managing partner of 180 Partners, and the author of Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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