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How To Avoid Leadership Dependence

SelectOne
Fri, Jan 2, 2015

pexels-photo-194094.jpegI’ve been in many team meetings where those in attendance wait patiently for their manager to respond to a question before offering an opinion.

Is this driven by laziness? Lack of quality ideas? Fear of suggesting something that conflicts with his/her manager’s view?

Unfortunately, it’s tough to know exactly why - but it is likely a culture of leadership dependence exists. Team members who are paralyzed by leadership dependence ask what they should do instead of thinking critically themselves. Unfortunately this negatively affects the team and business by draining the very best of what people have to offer – their thoughts and opinions!

Why and how does leadership dependence happen?

  • The busy signal: Everyone is busy these days, or so it appears. As a result there is a perceived time crunch, so employees cut-to-the-chase and ask what they should do, as opposed to coming to the table with potential solutions.
  • High-performers: Leaders often ascend because they are high-performers in their profession. Employees looking to emulate these leaders may assume asking for advice is the quickest way to get to the best course of action.
  • The ‘yes man’: Employees inherently want to please their superiors; they assume doing just as they’re told is ultimate validation of their boss.
  • Empowering critical thinkers: Organizations are set up to teach people what to do and when to do it. As a result, there is little time to focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and how to appropriately challenge authority and norms.

Over the years I have utilized one specific technique in an effort to prevent an isolated leadership dependence incident from becoming an imbedded culture. When an employee asks the question of what to do or how to do something, I respond with “what do you think you should do?” or “how would you like to handle this if I weren’t available?". This technique accomplishes a few really important things:

  • It forces the person to think critically about the problem they’re trying to address.
  • It breaks down any real or perceived communication barriers and fosters a sense of connectedness between the leader and team.
  • It provides the opportunity for progressive thoughts and different viewpoints to arise.
  • And, even when the person suggests an improper course of action, it instills the notion that they need not fear being wrong – be a good coach!

Good companies and knowledgeable leaders who truly care about their people can, despite the best of intentions, develop a pattern of leadership dependence. With the proper understanding of how to identify when it is occurring and a thoughtful approach to interactions, it’s possible to foster a culture of critical thought, problem solving, and innovation.  

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