I met with a newly minted leader and long-time colleague, who is both highly collaborative and highly engaging. He cares about his people in a visceral way. I congratulated him on his promotion while warning him that there was the potential for him to fail due to a blind spot in his approach. I stated that he may fail the eat the oatmeal or like the oatmeal challenge.
Most leaders, like my colleague, aspire to be continuously collaborative, following the thinking put forth by Good to Great, Leadership Engine, and Servant Leadership. The focus on creating environments where people are heard and contribute is not misplaced. In fact, a leader who is collaborative and creates a climate that empowers the team is of great value.
There are times, however, when a leader needs to be leverage their authority. In The Art of Woo, there are six persuasion styles identified that people can (and should) leverage. When we have front and mid-level leaders to assess their own styles, we find that the most under-utilized style is authority. They state that they are uncomfortable with using authority and being viewed as a dictator/boss.
In the end, most leaders are challenged with making sure the day-to-day climate is in line with the culture. There will be moments where a call needs to be made because of the role. These decisions may be unprecedented or unpopular with their team. In those moments, we find that leaders are trying to persuade and “win over” their direct reports to find agreement with a decision that has already been made, oftentimes by leaders higher up in the organization.
This is the eat or like the oatmeal moment. People who fail to exercise authority (eat the oatmeal), waste their leadership capital and diminish engagement by trying to convince their direct reports to (like the oatmeal). The direct reports lose respect and trust for a leader who is unwilling to communicate clearly – even unpopular messages.
At JMReid Group, we know leadership is about understanding, not agreement. Your people do not need to agree with every decision you make, but they need to understand how the decision will benefit the company and what the impact will be for them. Understanding behaviors (context setting, clarity, listening, etc…) are critical. If one believes leadership is about agreement it leads to bargaining, negotiating and less valuable behaviors.
Using authority effectively and communicating decisions with this in mind enables leaders to maintain the trust they’ve built in their team.