What do YOU think?

Or maybe that should be “What do you THINK?”

Often in a discussion there are various sides to take into account. If we look at things from one perspective a particular course of action seems obvious. But when we move our viewpoint, other options come into play and appear equally as valid. In such circumstances it can be difficult to know what to do.

If you are “leading from above” you’re ¬†expected to listen to all the options, the pros and cons of each, and arrive at a decision about the way forward.

If you’re not the “leader from above” head honcho, you still have an opportunity to lead from below or within. But only if you’re willing to come to your own view about what you think should be done. And say it out loud.

It’s all very well to understand the context, the various options and the pros and cons of each. It is absolutely necessary to be sure that the discussion group has all of that in front of them. But the only way you “steer” a discussion is by coming to your own conclusion and being willing to state it publicly.

This can be hard. Especially if you think your final view doesn’t match where you think “the leader” will end up, or goes against what other powerful figures in the discussion think. But those are often the moments when it is most important that you state your opinion.

Now. I’m not advocating career suicide. If you know that Mrs X will make sure you get sacked if you go against her in public… Well… You have to pick your battles and choose how to fight them.

But if your unique perspective on a problem, which comes from your unique experience, knowledge and understanding of the context, is at odds with others in the room, there’s every chance they’re missing something important.

It might be that stating your opinion doesn’t change the end result. The boss might still choose to place more weight on a different view. You have to accept that this might happen.

But the capacity to weigh the pros and cons of various options and come up with a clear view on what to do is a crucial leadership skill.

The very best teams are able to engage with the different options in a complex situation, have members of the group speak clearly on different sides of the argument and then proceed with the final decision as a unified group.

So if you want to be in a powerful team, if you want to steer that team as it moves forwards, practise deciding what you would do if you were in charge and saying it out loud in a way that contributes positively to the decision-making process.

You’ll be exercising your leadership muscles. And people will notice.

How we communicate matters

I made a mistake yesterday. 

I raised an issue in an email that I should have brought up face to face first. I needed an email record that I’d addressed it, but I should have done that after a proper conversation. 

Email strips away facial expression, nuance and the ability to respond immediately to concerns. 

Having sent the email yesterday afternoon I was annoyed at myself to find three emails sent at later and later times in the evening from my colleague. He was feeling threatened, undermined and indignant. All understandable. All unnecessary. 

It was a sensitive issue. I should have predicted the reaction and adjusted my approach accordingly. 

Difficult topics should always be raised face to face first, and then followed up in writing later. 

If you get it wrong, as I did, acknowledge it quickly. Apologise. Don’t roll back from a position you need to take. But do accept you could have handled it better. 

It is inevitable that you’ll get it wrong sometimes. 

Being willing to own up when you do is vital if you want to maintain the respect of your colleagues and encourage an environment in which healthy necessary challenge is welcome. 

Necessary challenge

Are you always right? Is your boss? Are your colleagues?

Probably not. 

Supposing that we’re often right, though… how do we know when we’re off track?

Someone tells us. 

Someone who is paying attention, who understands the circumstances, who understands you, who is confident enough to pull you up and say… Hang on. Are you sure?

Who has been that person for you? Remember to thank them. 

Have you recently had an opportunity to be that person for someone else? Did you go for it? Or back away?

Learn how to challenge while maintaining collegiality. Cultivate an environment where constructive challenge is seen as fundamental to making good decisions. 

You’ll end up being right more often.