Business Leadership Is Not A Democracy

Business Leadership Is Not A Democracy 

Most management writers encourage leaders to be more participative and collaborative in their decision making. Gone are the days of the top-down, hierarchical organization of the past they say!

Why then does the business media continue to make heroes out of highly autocratic leaders, writing biographies about them, sticking them on the magazine covers, and idolizing them on social media?

My view is that business leadership is not a democracy and that decision making by committee is a recipe for mediocrity. “Leaders must lead” and that means making clear decisions. You are the team leader, not an elected politician, and this is not a popularity contest. You are paid to make good decisions that are in the best long-term interests of the organization.

However, in order to make good strategic decisions, it is highly desirable to solicit a variety of different viewpoints and opinions and make sure your people feel heard before making your decision.

Welcome disagreement.

Peter Drucker in his timeless book The Effective Executive said that effective leaders create dissension and disagreement rather than promote consensus. In fact, he recommended that you should not make a decision unless there is disagreement first. If everyone agrees with your ideas at the outset you should tell them to go away and come back with some counter viewpoints.

“Groupthink” – where everyone in a company (sometimes even in a whole industry) thinks the same – is a dangerous pitfall to guard against. The famed WW2 battlefield commander General George Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”.

As a leader, you need to have the confidence to surround yourself with people who are willing to disagree with you and make it safe for them to do so. Then you must listen generously and demonstrate that you are willing to hear what they have to say.

You may not like hearing criticism, or opinions that are different to yours, but you must ask people to tell you what they really think, so you get to uncover a suite of options and can then facilitate a debate of the different perspectives. Introverts are unlikely to speak up to you, so you need to find a way to make it safe for them to get their opinion on the table as well.

You can’t please everyone, but you have to listen.

Many research projects have shown that motivation, job performance, and morale increase when employees have the opportunity to contribute their concerns and ideas. That does not mean that you need to please everybody (you can’t) but you need to show that you are willing to listen to them.

There is a consequence of giving your employees a voice: The leader must listen. If you just pay lip service to listening, and have no intention of seriously considering their ideas, your staff will tend to stop offering input and become increasingly frustrated and dysfunctional in their jobs.

Conversely, employees who think their leaders do pay attention and listen tend to speak up more often, and these teams tend to get along better with one another, improving the organization’s functioning as a whole.

In summary, if you want to make good decisions; get input from many people, especially those with a variety of different viewpoints. Provide tangible evidence that you have heard them and have seriously considered what they have to say.

Now do your job. Go and make a good decision!


Until next time…