What to Do When Your Needs Are Being Blocked by Your Leader

need leadership trainingLeaders, no less than group members, find themselves unable to get their needs met because of some action by their boss. Without consulting you, your boss makes a decision that interferes with your doing your best job or deprives you of something you need. Now what do you do? Or your boss settles a conflict between the two of you by using Method I, causing you to feel she won, you lost. Must that be the end of it? Must you be resolved to grin and bear it? Unfortunately, many leaders do grin and bear it, although their grin is usually a cover-up for resentment and anger.

Yet, doing nothing when your leader has made a decision unfavorable and unacceptable to you is sanctioned and supported by commonly accepted “principles of management,” such as

“An order is an order.”

“Employees’ first responsibility is to follow orders, no matter how much they disagree with them.”

“Never go over your boss’s head.”

“Managers can never make a decision acceptable to everyone.”

An opposing point of view, more compatible with our concept of organizational effectiveness, is that when decisions deprive people of their needs they should be questioned or challenged. People sometimes make bad decisions without knowing what the consequences will be. The critical question is: how can a person go about getting a decision modified without hurting the relationship with her leader?

Again, the No-Lose Method is the key. And there is a definite procedure to follow:

Imagine three levels of leaders in an organization. L2, a department head, made a decision that turned out to be unacceptable to L3, a supervisor, because it made her job much more difficult. Using the No-Lose way, L3 takes the following action:

1. L3 asks L2 for a conference at her convenience, briefly explaining the problem.

2. L3 starts out by sending appropriate I-Messages, making sure to shift gears to Active Listening when required. L3 invites L2 to join in Method III problem-solving.

3. If L2 refuses or if Method III fails, L3 asks L2 to accompany her in a conference with L1 with the hope that L1 might help them find a no-lose solution.

4. If L2 refuses, L3 informs L2 that she intends to go to L1 for help, but she would much prefer L2 join her so L2 can adequately represent her own position to L1.

5. If L2 still refuses to join L3, L3 goes to L1, making certain she explains to L1 that she has already tried Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4. Under certain circumstances, L3 might change her mind at any of the above steps and decide to accept L2’s decision. In other words, L3 would carry out all five steps only if she continues to feel strongly that L2’s decision is unacceptable. Now, when L1 hears L3’s problem, she should follow the steps outlined previously under “How to Handle Complaints  from Lower Levels.”

Strangely, we meet strong resistance to this procedure in our L.E.T. workshops. Many leaders are afraid to carry out this procedure—it looks much too dangerous to them. They say, “L2 would fire L3” or “L3 would ruin her relationship with L2.”

These leaders are remembering past experiences in organizations and conflicts that were typically resolved by those with the most power, which usually produces win-lose outcomes. It seems foreign to them that conflicts should be resolved by problem-solving designed to produce mutually acceptable solutions.

When leaders at all levels are committed to using the No-Lose Method, the above procedure is certainly not odd. Nor is it dangerous. It is perfectly consistent with our model of non-power, no-lose, problem-solving leadership.


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