As leaders and managers, we're trained to ask for input from our team members when we go about making decisions. But, let's be honest: there are definitely times when you've already made up your mind and just go through the motions of asking for other opinions. While that might seem like an innocuous decision, it's the kind of thing that, if you make a habit out of it, could completely derail your credibility as a leader.
Let me explain.
Back when I was a newly minted company president, I made it a custom to bring issues to my team and ask them for input. But there were also times when I had already made up my mind; when I knew what we were going to do pretty much regardless of what anyone might say. So while people chimed in with their opinions, little did they know I had already made the decision.
It turns out, however, that my team had actually figured this out. They could read my body language enough to know when I wasn't actually looking for their input. But I was clueless about this. It wasn't until my CFO, Phil, pulled me aside one day and told me something I'll never forget: "If you don't want our input, don't ask for it." Phil went on to explain that he and the team understood that there were times when I needed to make the tough decisions. They were OK with that--I was the boss after all--so long as it didn't happen all the time. Otherwise, they were happy, even excited, to participate in the decision-making process when I was indeed interested in their opinions.
That was a groundbreaking moment for me. My team helped me understand that sometimes it's OK to pull the boss card and make the decisions myself. But I also knew that if I did that, I still owed them an explanation and the reasons behind why I made the decision. It's paramount for leaders to be transparent about their decisions; it's simply not good enough to rule by fiat.
I remain thankful to Phil for setting me straight. How many times have you shared feedback with your boss, only to recognize that he had already made his decision? It's frustrating. It makes you mad. It might even make you hate your job.
It's clear now that if I had continued to pretend that I was asking for input, I would eventually lose credibility as a leader with my team--which is about the worst-case scenario you can experience as a boss. If my team didn't believe that I valued their opinions and input, well, I wouldn't be much of a leader in the first place.
The truth is that my team influenced my decisions greatly over the years--particularly when it came to major issues, the ones below the waterline that could potentially sink our ship. When our collective success depended on a particular decision, that's when I wanted the most input from my team. Even if we had limited information to work with, I knew we would arrive at a better decision, one that wouldn't sink our boat, if I got everyone involved in making the best possible decision.
But there is a significant cost when you solicit input from the team. Conducting those meetings takes time and effort. And sometimes, there are decisions that aren't worth making that kind of investment. That's when it's OK to play the boss card--as long as you explain your rationale for doing so. In other words, don't ask for input when you don't want it. But also explain why you did what you did.
If you are consistently clear about when you want input, and when you don't and why, you'll then build trust and credibility with your team. You'll also get better decisions and results. And isn't that what being a boss is all about in the first place?