marco (marcochacon) wrote,

Leadership, Positions of Power

So Craig and I had a discussion about what to do when you are a member of a team and are faced with a leader making a decision you feel is wrong (or being a leader who makes a decision a vocal member of the team feels is wrong). Leaving aside edge-conditions (the whole company will fail on this decision!) moral issues (the CEO wants to feed people into ovens) or entirely pragmatic decision making (what if the leader being a jerk just had a death in the immediate family? I wouldn't totally cross-examine him then!) we can look at the philosophy of this. It broke down like so:

When faced with a perceived bad decision in the chain of command does the employee:
  1. Take One For The Team. Put aside your differences and work to make it happen even if you don't agree with the direction--because you're a team player!!
  2. You Gotta Fight--For Your Right. You are right. You're success oriented and "appeal to authority" is a logical fallacy (it says so right on Wikipedia! Look!!).
  3. Consider Me Gone. I won't argue with the referee--but I will leave the game! It's a free country.

I came down as a #1. Craig was #2 or, if he couldn't take it any more: #3. And he's done it--successfully (kinda: he got resurrected as a consultant for his old company but the salary increase was maybe worth it).


The Point of View Of The Leader

When we started this, I discovered that I relate to this question from the point of view of the person who is in a leadership role--because in my life I am. So here's what it looks like from the manager's view. In case you don't know.

Myths About Command
I think that for guys at the bottom of the chain of command looking up, the thought process often goes like this: "Man, if I was responsible I'd have the authority to really make a difference ... unlike the current crop of bozos. Then I'd get all the relevant information and make a smart decision! Yeah!!"

The problem with this is that it's a fantasy. You often have responsibility without authority (the for-real executive will not burn precious credibility giving you command until you have proved yourself: they expect you to exhibit leadership before being given an HR-panic inducing hammer) and you almost never have all the information necessary to make a "smart decision." Think you can calculate ROI? A lot of enterprises can't even calculate TCO! And Opportunity Costs? Dream on. If you don't know what all those acronyms meant it's "Return on Investment" and "Total Cost of Ownership." These are central elements to making "smart" decisions. Usually they are incredibly expensive and time consuming to determine for large enterprises.

What The Arguer Looks Like To The Leader
If you are the leader making a decision and you've made it and the guy keeps arguing this is what it looks like to me: it looks freakin' first and foremost scary. Here is why: you need the team to work--you are center of the bulls-eye for blame if it goes wrong. The guy running his mouth? It's not his career on the line: it's yours. When this guy isn't following your direction the team may break down--collapse: anyone who's been around enough has seen it happen.

So you realize that authority (or just "leadership") won't work and then you have to convince this guy (or escalate to group-a-geddon where you initiate action--something that always looks bad for you).

But that's okay, the arguer thinks: "Go ahead and convince me: I listen to reason!"

Everyone thinks they listen to reason--everyone. Crazy people think they are sane. That means nothing (NOTE: Craig is one of the smartest and most reasonable guys I know--but not everyone who holds a #2 philosophy is ... so consider that). But even if the guy is pretty "reasonable" if you are counting on their support (i.e. do not have firing authority) then you know that every disagreement with them is a huge amount of work.

You may have 10 years of experience. You may have information in your head you cannot "cite" on demand--no matter: if you are counting on the guy's performance you must plan (in your plan--your daily time budget) for a debate at any time--because they, like Tom Petty, won't back down. You have a zillion other things to deal with and getting the guy to work with you requires a complex argument and back-and-forth. And that's a best case--that's if the guy can be convinced.

If you are not in charge of people you may not really dig this--but maybe you can: ask yourself how good does that guy have to be before you want him on your team.

Ask yourself: are most people actually that good?

Point of View Of the Employee

This is harder for me for two reasons. One of them is NOT that I'm in charge. Today my boss disagreed with me about something I felt strongly about and I argued it until he made his decision and then I decided to back him up.

No, the reason I have a hard time with this is the following:
  1. My model of human behavior has some pretty negative things to say about that.
  2. I don't believe that there's usually a "right" answer to these questions in a practical (and maybe philosophical) sense.

Would You Rather Be 'Close' or 'Right'?
That's a question counselors ask battling couples when they go round-and-round about some trivial (but life-wrecking) issue like who's turn it is to do the dishes. The point is that if you are focused on arguing after a leadership decision has been made that looks to me like an intent to be in power struggle. I'm not saying it always is--and for any given person it certainly may not be the motivator.

But on the whole, that's what it seems like to me--and mostly when I have seen it in the wild (not with Craig) that is how it has played out.

I Don't Think There Is A Right Answer
This freaked Craig out. Here's the deal: I do, in fact, believe that at the very bottom of reality things may not be as "logical" and "sensible" as we'd like. QM posits some things that are very counter intuitive. Relativity gives us "actual paradoxes" (like the Ladder Paradox which demolishes the notion of simultaneity). Even in the mundane every-day world I do not necessarily believe there is a "correct set of decisions" for a given problem. Firstly making any decision could (and often does) by its nature change the problem. If you decide to just-in-time develop vs. over-engineering the way that plays out after the decision is made could effect the "rightness" of it from the time it was decided* (i.e. making the "right decision" can turn to the wrong one in implementation--simply because of the act of making the decision through argument*). So I'm not sure that there's a real "right answer."

But I am totally sure that given most questions constraints there is no practical right answer. Ultimately it comes down to a judgment call and if I'm a team member I'll debate--but eventually defer to the leader. If I'm a leader, I'll listen--but ultimately I'll make my call and I want my team behind me when I do.

I think that the kind of total knowledge you need to know if, for a start up, lowering the barrier to sign-up or having more valuable information about your user-base is simply unavailable. Worse, I think it's a conceptual error: if you continue to argue about this you are deep into diminishing returns on any potential value since you could be doing other things at the same time.

* This is a bit complex to explain in a blog post--but I have seen these things happen. The decision making process itself effects the implementation of the decisions even when everyone has good intentions.

-Marco
Tags: ceo
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