Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Keys to Consultative Leadership

Photo Credit: Nick Stenning

George Washington was an extremely inexperienced leader at the start of the American Revolution, especially when compared to his British counterparts.  This was underscored by some poor decisions at the outset that were costly and foolhardy. As the war progressed he learned to trust his instincts and seek and incorporate the wisdom of his generals.  Immediately after defeating the British in the daring Battle of Trenton, he convened his generals to help determine the next course of action. This war council led to the evasive and offensive action that led to the Battle of Princeton.  Washington learned to inquire from his field leaders and decide on a course of action that was based on this more informed perspective.  Leaders who are wise enough to get multiple perspectives from those who are closest to the action will be leaders who make stronger decisions and build cohesiveness and trust among their leadership team. Here are three principles of consultative leadership that we can glean from His Excellency George Washington

1. Be clear about the type of decision that is made.  General Washington called in his Generals with the express purpose of getting their input for the next course of action in the war.  Although he was going to make the final decision his willingness to ask opinions demonstrated that he valued the Generals.  They understood that Washington needed their perspective, but they also understood that he had the responsibility for making the final declaration on next steps.

2. Listen.  OK, this seems easier than it looks.  When consulting opinions, you will set back the entire process if you simply express your brilliant plan and seek the approval of the team.  You have got to shut up and hear what others are thinking and experiencing.  The only value of a team is if each member actually gets to express their opinion and contribute to the final solution.  You will find that there are ideas and angles that you never have, nor never would have considered if these alternative perspectives were not heard.

3. Be decisive.  After listening, questioning, brainstorming, predicting, and summarizing it's time for the leader to make the decision.  Consultation is not consensus.  In the end, your judgment as a leader has got you to where you are and you need to trust your instinct - along with the wealth of information that has been presented to SELECT the one course that your organization will take.  If Washington can be criticized in the early phases of the war it would be for his indecision.  In fact, in the Battle of Brooklyn, when the Continental Army was routed, he left a decision up to one of his Generals (Nathaniel Greene) despite his instincts telling him to go another way.  The outcome was disastrous and complete.  As the war progressed, he learned to trust his instinct and intuition and led the troops to decisive action and ultimate victory.

What has been your experience with Consultative Leadership?

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