Unilateral leaders like Ford – organizational and political – usually fall afoul of their own single-minded ideology.
They think that the rest of the organization or, in Ford’s case, the city administration, is stuck in wasteful, time-consuming, and expensive consensus-making.
The same goes for teams inside organizations that think only they have the right or authority to decide what’s best.
Last week I talked about how to make progress when liars and bullies take the autocratic route to change. In Ford’s case, his public downfall has been his personal behaviour. In reality, the city council that voted to remove his powers as mayor were reacting to his endless acts of unilateral decision-making, many of which directly contradicted his election platform – lowering taxes.
Are they both bad – unilateral and consensus?
Unilateral can work. Think Steve Jobs – it required his force of will to obsessively innovate on behalf of the consumer (who didn’t know they needed an iPad!).
Consensus can work. It requires a leader who has a clear vision and has the time to let people figure out what they want and how to make it happen.
In both cases, the risk is high and the process can be very inefficient. Jobs won because his ideas came with a huge profit margin that allowed for constant mistakes.
The question about unilateral vs. consensus is therefore; what’s in between the two? In today’s complex organization there’s little room for either.
What’s in between the opposites? The answer is… a lot!
Think in a Solution Focus framework and ask the better questions that follow:
1. Existing strategy / policy: What worked in the past / recently? What needs to get better? What will the strategy / policy look like in the future when it’s working even better?
2. Programmes: Suppose we are managing even more effectively, what will that look like? What would the small steps towards getting started look like?
3. Stakeholders: Suppose the strategy / policy / programmes are designed to work for a broad majority (some quickly, some over time), but not for everybody. What outcomes would we be measuring (vs. voters opinion polls)?
Important note: Look carefully at the way the above questions are asked. They will shift the conversation away from the two extremes in the direction of making more sound choices that result in action and forward momentum.