Leaders and Followers

Shrihari Khanwelkar

Recently, someone remarked, "in spite of the parent's efforts to teach their
children good manners, children always behave like their parents!”

There is a role-play situation about issues in participative decision-making. I have been using it with experienced managers, and freshers. The role brief for the leader says; "do not take any position yourself, leave the decision to your people". Often, this instruction is ignored, and the leader takes the decision. Interestingly, when some leaders tell their followers in the role play,  to take the decision, the followers shy away and insist that decision making is the leader's
prerogative. These are the same people who insisted earlier "in this organisation our abilities are ignored. Our effort to contribute is put down."

Is this contradiction an effect of culture? They want to be leaders. But, when it comes to action, they follow what they see around them.

One leadership theory says; "style of leadership depends upon the forces within the followers." If your followers want an autocratic leader, become one. If they want a participative leader, be that. Never mind your own preference. If some of your followers need an autocratic leader, some need a consultative one, and others need a participative leader, then may God help you!

If participative style is a good style of leadership, and if people hesitate to take decisions, then what can be done? May be one needs to find out why people hesitate to take decisions.

Avoiding decisions is avoiding risk. Why do people want to avoid risks?
Were their past decisions ignored? Mistakes punished? Good decisions went
unrecognized and un-rewarded? Or people simply feel inadequate? These reasons need to be identified and addressed.

What about the forces within the leader? Why do leaders prefer to take decisions themselves and hand them down? Is it because they feel their followers are incapable?

"I take decisions. Their job is to implement them."

"Even when I ask subordinates to take a decision, they will ask me to do it anyway?"

Then of course there is another type of leaders. They know the virtues of
participative decision making, as well as delegation. They leave the
decision to followers and "only help" them in "refining" the decision. In the opinion of a leader; " this way my followers benefit from my experience, and learn faster. That is how I learned.” After a few months, the same leader complained, "my subordinates seem to have lost initiative.":

In absence of this leader, a subordinate remarked "true, he shares his experience with us, but in the process he ends up changing our decision. We
feel inadequate. So, we might as well let him take a decision."

Interesting situation! A noble intention of the leader had damaging effect.

When they came to know about each other's perception of the situation, they
took a bold step. Each week, they meet. The agenda of the meeting is to
discuss problems caused by each other’s actions. People share problems and
suggest a corrective action. The person who is the cause of the problem does not defend. They simply share the problem they may face in taking the corrective action, if they can anticipate them.

The result is better working relationship, better participation from all. Most important, a forum to vent out grievances and initiate corrective action because one wants to, and not because "I have been told to."

This was shared with a few HR professionals. This is what they have to say:

“In IT industry, where there are “knowledge workers” it is necessary to encourage transparency and feedback. It is Important that a Leader must be a “good sport”!”

 “This is true of every industry, because people every where are the same, be it IT or be it any other type of Industry. A true leader’s leadership quality lies in identifying the different learning and working styles of followers, and nurturing them. Such an approach leads to both individual growth and organizational productivity.”

Well said! Everyone has a force " the desire to participate", hidden within. It’s up to the leader to unleash the force.

 About Shrihari Khanwelkar:

Shrihari Khanwelkar is a consultant and a facilitator since 1993. As the CEO of Marketing and Management Consultants, Pune, India, he advises companies, facilitates learning programs, develops learning content for web based training, and writes articles.


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