Leaders make decisions – mostly based on facts. Those who do not make decisions do not provide orientation. What type of cometence enables us to act? What are we obliged to do if no facts are available?
The trend of leaders being reluctant to provide orientation to their team, or the recommendation that leaders no longer need to know all the details but rather autonomous employees know better and should therefore decide for themselves is a dangerous suggestion, especially in times of crisis. Leadership is defined as responsible mediation between the interests of the system and individual needs, with a surplus of power.
Those who make the right to autonomy and self-management into an absolute ignore the fact that every employee is part of a system and therefore interests may conflict. In order to balance these interests, a representative is needed – this task is performed by the leader.
Those who demand grassroots decision-making processes – that are in line with politics – in day-to-day industry equate capital with political power. If capital is effective, owners make decisions about what happens to their property. Possession legitimates the power. In a political system, legitimacy is based on the number of votes cast.
Especially in times of crises it becomes clear to us leaders that we should not let ourselves be discouraged by our competence, with regard to what we are ‘able’ and ‘allowed’ to do. For us as mentors, the rule remains: we should ask clarification questions about the situation presented to us by employees and then be able, allowed and willing to make decisions. After all, we cannot always hope to have all the facts in critical situations, and as a result, one particular scenario becomes more important in day-to-day leadership.
If there are no facts and we (must) decide nevertheless, our entire spectrum of leadership (first-level leadership) is required. Because the risk remains, as we only find out afterwards whether or not our decision was right.
When we as managers invite people to take part in an experiment, taking all risks into account, it is necessary that we can credibly convey that we are aware of the risks associated with the experiment and that we will take responsibility for its consequences. The more we appear as if we do not want or are unable to assess the experiment that we want everyone to engage in, the more distrust arises among those who are supposed to show us their allegiance. This is why a basic principle of Toyota’s leadership theory applies especially in times of crisis: In addition to sound experience with the subject and the ability to assess risks, it is above all the assumption of responsibility to protect those being led in the event of failure that enables them to be motivated at every learning step – especially when there are no facts (yet).
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FRANK KRAUSE, Senior Partner, STAUFEN.AG
Management of international Lean Transformation projects
Master Coach and Trainer for leadership Lean Leadership