Think of the leader of the management team as also being a member. However, leaders usually have special responsibilities in management meetings by virtue of their unique position in the group as well as being seen by the group members as having roles different from them. After all, in formal organizations leaders do possess more “authority,” and they always have the ultimate accountability for the success or failure of the group. The special status of the leader’s position makes it necessary for him to carry out certain special functions.
It is one thing for leaders to tell their group that they want to build a problem-solving and decision-making management team, but their words must be reinforced by what they do. In one organization in which I served as a consultant to the top management group, one of the members, a vice-president, had this to say about their management meetings:
“We’ve been told by Dave [the company president] that he wants us to be a democratic group and make group decisions, but he always ends up making the decision. We’re supposed to discuss problems and come up with decisions, but they have to be his decisions. I just go along for the ride and keep my mouth shut. Why waste time participating when we know it’s always going to end up with the boss getting his way?”
My own observations of their management meetings confirmed what the vice-president felt—the president was not practicing what he preached. And he was not fooling any of his group members. They knew he was unwilling to trust the wisdom of the group and allow the decision-making responsibility to be taken over by the total group.
I have observed other leaders who espoused the idea of fostering a “safe climate” in which group members felt free to state their opinions and disagree with the leader’s, yet in the management meetings these leaders were unable to curb their tendencies to use such Roadblocks as negative evaluation, moralizing and preaching, lecturing, and psychoanalyzing. As a result, their group members were afraid to be open and honest in meetings; the risks of being put down were too great.
During the early stages of trying to get a group to become responsible, leaders often must bend over backwards to avoid inhibiting participation by members, as well as behavior that will be seen as controlling or running the group. This may mean that early in the game you should limit your own contributions to those verbal responses that foster a climate of acceptance and non-evaluation. Your principal communication tools for creating such a climate are Active Listening, Passive Listening, Door Openers, and Acknowledgment Responses. Taking a more active role before the members have decreased their dependence on you or lost their fear of your evaluation is risky. As a leader, you cannot become a more fully functioning participant until your group members gain enough security to participate freely and to accept or reject your substantial contributions on their merit, as they do those of other group members.
In time, once group members begin to believe you mean it when you say it is not your group, but ours, once they begin to sense that it is safe for them to make contributions, and once they feel certain that you are not subtly manipulating them toward your preconceived solutions—then you will be viewed more as another member than as the leader. When this happens it will be safer for you to participate more actively and more fully. But it takes time.