There is a notion that people shouldn’t question their leader’s direction. Questioning direction has been viewed as not being a team layer, undermining, or having a bad attitude. I want to dispel this myth. Having direction questioned is a good thing, once you can get past your ego, and I am going to explain why. I will move forward with the understanding that the people on the team want to accomplish the goal as much as the leader. Friction is good, as long as it is in an effort to achieve the goal. Friction is where debate and new ideas break ground. I’m going to illustrate my point with a personal example:
So I’ve come up with, what I thought, was a brilliant idea. Brilliant. The idea was so good that as soon as I explained the plan it caused so much excitement and energy. And that’s where I heard it, “Biren, the plan, it’s fucked.” Seriously. No sugar coat, no tact. I was taken aback. At first my ego was on fire and I was kind of hurt. I was about to get defensive and fire back, but I took a breath, and asked, “well, why’s that?” I asked that because I knew my guys. I knew that they were professionals, tactless professionals, but professionals none the less. They wanted the mission to be accomplished as much as I did and I knew when they shot down my plan, it wasn’t personal. It was them seeing glaring holes that I didn’t see at my level. But here is the best part, rather than spin out of control due to a bruised ego, which took everything I had not to do, I got a few really ingenious solutions. As much as I was the leader, and maybe had more visibility as to what’s going on at the higher levels of decision making, I didn’t have the best idea, and I didn’t have the visibility at the level of execution, which is critical in order to have a workable plan. My people, however, did. They knew that level very well, it only made sense for me to take on board what they were saying. Now I didn’t take every idea they had, I took on board the ones that made the most sense, that were in line with the vision and that fell inside the limits and constraints I had. The outcome was a very robust plan. We achieved the mission and the guys all had ownership of the outcome. It built my credibility with them, and their credibility me. Here are some lessons learned from this whole ordeal:
- Don’t plan in isolation. I felt as the leader that I had to come up with the whole plan myself. That was dumb. Especially with the fact that I was a new team leader, and the guys on my team had anywhere from 3 to 28 years of experience in the environment we were operating in. As the leader, take the executive role and make the final decisions, but incorporate your team in the planning process. You will be surprised to see what great ways to solve the problem come about . Planning with the key players of the team has benefits such as leveraging experience, saving time, creating a workable plan that is already sold to the team and creating ownership of the plan throughout the team. So many times good ideas come from isolated planning and fall flat as soon as the execution phase starts.
- If you are going to question your leader’s direction, do so tactfully. If your intent is to undercut your team lead, you’re probably an asshole. If your intent is to improve a faulty plan so that the mission can get accomplished, it is your duty to speak up. How you do this will determine how it will be taken aboard. If you are given the chance to voice your concerns in the early planning stages, do so, if you wait till the last stage when you had the chance earlier, refer to what I said about undercutting the team lead. You are about to tell your team lead that they missed the point, do so carefully and constructively. The leader is human too and has insecurities, pressures, ego and all the other human factors that you do. It wouldn’t hurt to understand who you’re talking to and communicate your idea in the most constructive and positive manner. It makes no sense to make your team leader defensive, as they may clam up and dismiss your idea or worse. It’s like telling someone to lose weight, do so carefully.
- As the leader, even if 90% of the plan was derived from the people in your team, you are still 100% responsible and accountable for the outcome. You cannot blame your people. You are always ultimately responsible for everything that happens regarding your team’s actions. That is why you must use your critical thinking skills with every idea that comes your way. If it passes the test, use it; if it doesn’t, explain why. Do not dismiss an idea without an explanation. Doing so will make that individual feel inferior, and frustrated. This type of behaviour will negatively affect morale and your people’s motivation to bring up good ideas or point out issues that need to be corrected.
This experience of having my direction and plan questioned has happened more than once, and I’m happy it did and does happen. I learn a lot from each experience. The team’s willingness to share ideas, indicate obvious and potential weak points and then come up with solutions is a demonstration of the team’s commitment to achieving the goals, their trust that they can speak up without being met with hard-headedness, and the collective ingenuity of a group of motivated people. The team’s ability to voice their concerns and have buy in of the plan only makes the cohesion of the team better. The act of the plan going through scrutiny by the team makes the plan better. Empowering your team to do so makes the organization better. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your team’s potential.