Ask yourself 2 questions:
- How much of the thinking and decision making do I do as a leader compared to the rest of my management team?
- How often does my management team ask me difficult and awkward questions, and what happens when they do?
Leaders perform better when they have the right people around them with the right skills and mentality to support the leader.
The mentality of the management team can work against leaders, who can find themselves feeling isolated and alone in their position. This can be either as a result of political machinations from those who seek the leader’s position or because the management are no longer willing or able to take ownership and responsibility for the success of the organisation. This leaves the leader doing all the thinking.
The flip side of this is a scenario where the leader has built a core team around them which can inadvertently create a ‘club’ as the organisation develops. To protect the leader or themselves, this core team will filter and sanitise information and bad news before it gets to the leader. This is sometimes referred to as uncertainty absorption.
In both situations, the impact is that the leader is left trying to provide all the answers but is operating on incomplete information and without the rigorous challenge needed for robust decision making. This can have huge implications for their success.
For example, Roy Hodgson, ex-England Manager said in an interview after England’s exit from Euro 2016 “I didn’t see the defeat coming”. In my experience this suggests either nobody challenged his thinking or he ignored any challenge. Either way, despite the masses of data he had access to, he was not prepared for the unexpected outcome. The provision and acceptance of challenge is essential to developing a leader’s thinking – we cannot grow in a vacuum.
The good news is that if you’re doing all the thinking and no-one is asking awkward questions, help is at hand. Whether you’re surrounded by sharks, managers who don’t take ownership or yes men that produce groupthink, the mentality which drives these behaviours can be addressed with the right expertise. By working with both the leader and managers, it is absolutely possible to change mind-sets and behaviours to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The use of challenge to stress test thinking, and the devolution of responsibility and ownership are both critical to supporting the leader in driving the organisation’s success.
Mary Sherry is an Organisational Psychologist and Psychotherapist, she is the British Psychological Society’s expert point of contact with the media on the topic of performance and she is the founder of APPS. Mary works with individuals, teams and organisations to develop the right mind-sets, behaviours, culture and infrastructure for success.