I’m really fortunate that I get to work with many really smart, classy team leaders. It’s not very often that I come across one who so profoundly confounds and disappoints me that I have to share my frustration with you. I share it in hopes that someone will recognize this pattern in their own behavior and put a stop to it.

Here’s the leader…sound familiar?

Modus Operandi

This is the team leader who insists that her way is the only way. You get the sense that on any issue, she is just waiting for the team to articulate the answers as she sees them. Team meetings are only vain treasure hunts (“you’re getting warmer…waaaarmer”) in search of the answers on her pre-determined answer key.

As team members throw out suggestions and ideas, they are “graded” pass/fail on whether they match the team leader’s answers or not. Eventually, team members just learn to give the answers the boss is looking for.

I once worked with a team leader who gave the team about 3 minutes to talk about what the team’s priorities should be before emailing me his prepared document on priorities and insisting I project it on the screen so that he could read it out loud, word-for-word to the team. Yikes.

Crazy Contradiction

Here’s the real contradiction.  After spoon-feeding team members with how and what to think, the leader then has the gall to complain that his team isn’t strategic enough. “Really, they can’t think for themselves…gee, I wonder why!?!”

Fix It

If you are feeling a little hot under the collar after reading this, don’t fret.  Just start making it better.

  1. Be clear and direct with your team about what needs to be accomplished.
  2. If they are missing something important, use open-ended questions to help them pay attention to different issues.
  3. Define the outcome you’re looking for.
  4. Engage with your team in a conversation about the optimal way to accomplish the goal.
  5. Listen and challenge and coach the team to reach the best solution with particular attention to letting go of your preconceived ideas.

Not everything in teams needs to be or should be a collaborative process.  In the cases where you need to make a unilateral decision without input, be forthright about it.

If you are teaching to the test all the time, don’t be surprised if your students haven’t learned to think for themselves.

Further Reading

When your Team needs a new Leader

How to Disagree with your Boss

Surviving a Succession Race on your Team

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