During a debrief of an experiential activity, it can be said that the difference between constructive behaviour and destructive behaviour is a choice. It is clearly a choice. As the facilitator, I can see people choosing a particular approach and others choosing an opposite approach. Consider something simple, like the choice between running into something without due planning or going mindfully into something after planning.
When covering the topic of Situational Leadership, it is clear that there are things in business that cannot be left to the choice of the team member responsible for the task. Here consider the date at which Vat needs to be paid over or the manner in which the Vat payment is calculated. Compliance is required. Freedom of choice is not an option.
Leaders are left with a complex task as a result of personal choice. The complexity of managing where choice is an option and where choice is not an option. Complete reliance on individual choice making could jeopardise aspects such as Service Level Agreements, Quality Standards, Corporate Governance and Teamwork. On the other hand, an approach where team members are not allowed any freedom of choice will negatively impact morale as well as initiative and will result in decision-making bottle necks.
Managing choice is further complicated by the manner in which people make choices. What is acceptable to a member of a team is not necessarily acceptable to the organisation. A common example of this is seen in companies wishing to practice proactive or future-based decision making but the team members never get out of making choices that perpetuate reactive behaviour patterns. Another company example is where a company wants team members to meet customers face to face but team members choose email contact rather.
The word dictate has nasty ripples and many people in leadership positions, that I come into contact with, seem to be doing everything possible to not be dictatorial favouring a more participative leadership style. Many of these people have no desire to have to enforce anything, as enforcement is exhausting and mind-numbing. We are led to believe that participative leadership styles will result in the best levels of teamwork, morale and governance. Does it?
The Gautrain experience in Johannesburg is highly regulated. No eating or drinking is allowed as an example. Earlier today I witnessed passengers carrying food packets onto the train and security immediately told them that eating was not allowed. The food remained in the packets. The train is clean. It is not to say that had the people eaten their food they would have left a mess but the train experience seems better as a result of the no food policy.
The balancing act of the need for compliance and the level of dictatorial leadership is tricky. Too much direction, too little initiative. Too much freedom, too little compliance. Too much reliance on individual ability, too much deviation. Too many mixed signals, too little the clarity required and too little the confidence in decision-making.
When to step in
Leaders can only be urged to monitor actual outcomes closely, objectively and fully . When actual outcomes are aligned with desired outcomes, keep your distance. When actual outcomes are far from desired outcomes, you unfortunately need to step in and step in quickly lest you send the very dangerous message that these negative variances are acceptable. When your results are also not aligned with desired outcomes know that you better start the corrective process by holding yourself accountable first. Do as I say and not as I do is not a choice.
Making better choices leads to better outcomes.
By Louis Gerke
Development Facilitator - The Ripple Effect
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