Leadership is Not a Democracy – Professional Growth Systems

Leadership is Not a Democracy

At the end of the day, leadership is determining/deciding what must be done, and then assuring that it is done. Simple to say, challenging and draining to do well, to be sure.

Throughout my leadership career, I have weathered challenges to this basic premise. Although I believe that effective leaders should focus on the personal success of their followers, it is easy for employees to extrapolate this out to , “your job is to assure that I am happy in what I am doing”. Well, not quite. An organization run on this premise would result in chaos.

It has been my experience that groups who govern themselves by unanimous consent or giving any member veto rights are crippled. Issues aren’t confronted, decisions aren’t made, and when they are, the process is painfully slow and not responsive to the situation.

A telling example

A CEO I was working with recently offered a great story that is instructive on this point. She was being challenged by an employee who believed he should have a vote on whether or not an action should be taken. The CEO responded with, “Are you going to be in front of the board when things go bad? That’s why you don’t get to make the decision.”

Research studies have confirmed that employees will forgive you for making the wrong decision, but they won’t forgive you for not making one. Working with several hundred organizations over the years, I have seen my share of dictatorial leaders that stifle innovation, employee growth and morale with too much leadership, if you will. But more common is a lack of leadership. Unclear direction, unclear policy, failure to hold others accountable – these are the more common failings in my experience. I don’t believe there is a conflict between being firm and caring. My leadership prescription would be clear, firm, consistent, caring.

Are the troops angry?

If there are no troops angry with you as leader, one of several things is happening: you are very lucky to have self-motivated high performers throughout, you are not confronting and making decisions on the tough issues, or you are not holding others accountable for performance. If either of the latter two are happening, you may not have angry troops, but you likely have many who are disappointed. No one wants an ineffective leader and, despite their protests, effective leaders don’t always employ the “servant leader” model.

As always, I’m interested in your questions and experience, please send me an e-mail.