Participatory Leadership

Participatory Leadership

The old people are upset. The management of the retirement community has painted their doors and none of them like the color. They have been told that they can paint the inside of their apartments any color they like but they have no say about the outside. It’s all they talk about.

You know how this goes. The grumbling from the residents is incessant. “They don’t care what we think.” They treat us like we don’t matter.” “We have no say.” “They only want our money.” It goes on and on, and it doesn’t have to.

I believe there are three key qualities to great leaders. They are :
1. Vision
2. Competence
3. Emotional Intelligence

All great leaders not only have the qualities listed above, they also have a philosophy of leadership; A framework or paradigm through which they understand their role as the leader. I believe the best, most effective leadership framework is what I call, “Participatory Leadership.”

Would it have killed the management of the retirement community to bring the residents of each hall together and ask them what color they would like their doors painted?  It would, of course, take extra time. Yes, there would have been debate. Yes, not everyone would agree. Yes, there might have been hurt feelings. And yes, it may not have been a color that the management liked. But is any of that worth having your customers, your clients, your reason for existing, grumbling negatively about you and their experience with you to their friends and families – your future clients? I mean it’s just the color of the doors!

But sometimes it’s more than the color of the doors at stake. Return for a moment to Super Bowl LII. One of the key plays was late in the game. It was fourth down and two yards to go and the Eagles ran a trick play where Nick Foles – the backup quarterback – caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Do you know who called that play?

Foles was wearing a  mike for the game and the interaction between Head Coach Pederson and backup quarterback Foles is recorded.  Foles ran to the side line and said to his coach “lets run ‘Philly Philly.’ “ Pederson hesitated for a second then said, “all right,” and they ran it. Think about this. In the biggest game of either of their lives, on the biggest stage with the most at stake, the coach let the backup quarterback call the play on fourth and two. Crazy? No, Participatory!

If Doug Pederson can let Nick Foles call a play in the Super Bowl why can’t the management at the retirement home let the residents pick the color of their doors? More importantly, why are you making all the decisions for your team?

Think about your last meeting. Did you gather your team to tell them what to do or did you gather your team to have them participate in the decision process?  Here’s the difference in really basic and simple terms:

Option #1

Leader:  “I’ve sent you all an agenda of things I think we should talk about. Let’s look at the first thing.  We’re going to do such-and-such on this one. Any thoughts or comments? No. Great.  Next item…

Team member: “Well, actually I do have a question. What about ….?

Leader: “Yes, I’ve already thought about that and here is why I came to the decision I came to.  Any other questions?  Great. Let’s move on.”

The meeting ends, and everyone thinks, “Why did I come to this meeting? All the decisions were already made and I didn’t need to be there. I could have gotten all of this in an email.”

In Option #1 the leader runs an efficient and fast meeting. Everyone is informed of what is coming and maybe even the rationale for the decisions. But they leave wondering why the wasted their time and they do not feel like they have any say in what’s going on.

Option #2

Leader: Before the meeting, sends out a request for input as to what should be discussed at the meeting.  Adds his/her own thoughts and incorporates the thoughts from the team into the agenda.

At the meeting.

Leader: “Thank you all for participating in putting together the agenda. I appreciate your time and effort on this. Let’s talk about the first issue.  What are your thoughts?

Team members: “I’ve given this some thought since we were asked to put together the agenda and I’ve been thinking…..”

Leader response: “That’s good stuff.  How would you handle this objection/issue/challenge/problem?”

Team members: “Well, we could do this, or this.”

Leader: “How do you all think we should move on this?

Team members: “It seems like X is the solution.”

Leader response A: “I agree. Let’s move forward.”

Leader response B1: “I really disagree. Let’s put this on hold and look at it again after we’ve had some time to think about it.

Leader response B2: “I really disagree, and normally I would say for us to put it on hold and look at it some more but we’ve been discussing this for a long time and we need a decision today. I’m going to go with your thoughts but I really disagree.”

Leader response B3: “I really disagree, and normally I would say for us to put it on hold and look at it some more but we’ve been discussing this for a long time and we need a decision today. It’s my butt on the line and I’m going to have to go with what I think is right.

In all of the Option 2 scenarios the team feels appreciated, heard and valued. Their thoughts and opinions are valued. The leader is creating an experience where the team members are glad to take time out of their day to be part of the meeting.

Does the approach take longer? Yes – and no. The net long term amount of time the leader spends on any give issue is less because now the leader does not have to put out the fires of discontent, low morale and disengaged team members. Nor does the leader incur the cost and time of turnover as people leave because they don’t feel valued.

Participatory Leadership is tough. It’s not easy and it’s counterintuitive. We think the great leader is the one who stands alone like the classic pictures of JFK or Ronald Regan in the Oval Office. But great leadership almost never happens that way.

In the movie “The Darkest Hour” at the key moment in the movie Winston Churchill gets his inspiration and confidence from talking to ordinary Londoners on the Tube. He then goes back to Parliament and gets the support of his caucus before addressing the whole chamber.  Then, with the participation of those two groups he gives his impassioned speech to stand up and fight Hitler.

Do you value your team enough to include them in the leadership process? Would you let the old people chose the color of their doors?

About the author / bobperkins

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