Can leaders dispense with collaboration?

Today, on seeing @HarvardBiz’s tweet, “We respect leaders more when they don’t need co-pilots,” I was compelled to read the corresponding article in Harvard Business Review, “Why Command-and-Control Leadership Is Here to Stay.” The article comments on the Vroom-Yetton model of leadership, which identifies five different decision-making styles, ranging from autocratic to consultative to group-based decisions. I found the tweet and headline provocative (although the article rather less so).

As an advocate of consultative approaches in complex situations, when time and the requirement for confidentiality allow, I am not wholly against command-and-control leadership. Command and control hierarchies do not prohibit consultation, as I am sure many a junior army officer will testify having failed to consult his more experienced sergeant. At the other extreme, decision making by committee is, almost always, a disaster. Autocracy does have its place. Leaders may need to take difficult decisions without consultation, for example where sensitive personal or commercial circumstances dictate.  But, to maintain the respect of their followers, autocratic leaders need to be on top of their game. They need to be capable and performing. They need to be aware of the potential for followers to disengage when their skills and experience are ignored.

In November 2011, I posted an article, 3 Dimensions of Organisational Capability and Performance, which set out three factors that determine an organisation’s capability to perform:

  • Cognisance – the knowledge of what is required, enabling focus on the right things
  • Competence – the ability to do it right
  • Capacity – the level of resource required to perform the task in the allotted time.

The three factors are similarly relevant in the context of leadership. Leaders need the awareness, competence and capacity to analyse situations and take the right decisions. If they can do this without co-pilots, or consultation, they will be respected.  If not, they will need to call on their teams to make up for any deficiencies. And, even when they have the capability to analyse and decide alone, consultation can have benefits – committed followers for example!

Related Articles:

Both articles apply to employee engagement.

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