|Image adapted from source: http://goo.gl/1uizf|
Do you remember reading your grade school social studies textbook, looking at a picture a field with brown figures depicting Native Americans engaged in slash-n-burn on their fields? I do. The idea of slash-n-burn approach to getting a field ready for use has stayed with me and it pops into my head when I consider leadership approaches that many of us encounter in real life, even in K-12 education.
Slash-and-burn is an agricultural technique which involves cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create fields. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology or other tools. It is typically part of shifting cultivation agriculture, and of transhumance livestock herding. (Source: Wikipedia)
What I like about juxtaposing slash-and-bun with leadership styles is the concept of subsistence agriculture. That is, an approach to farming that results in only enough food for the family and themselves. It’s an easy connection to make because leadership styles that are command-n-control are focused on getting the minimum out of workers. The organization subsists but it doesn’t thrive…people don’t give “their all” and instead, you have people throwing a party when it’s time to leave at day’s end. In these organizations, micro-management, distrust are systemic and decision-making is concentrated in the hands of a few rather than delegated to trusted teams and/or individuals. Instead of resulting in high-performing people, slash-n-burn leadership degenerates an organization filled with people doing what they need to survive, the bare minimum to earn a paycheck.
A new administrator takes over a department or division and immediately begins issuing edicts, disbanding committees, replacing people, and squelching the inevitable dissent–through fear and intimidation, if necessary.
In another area, a new person comes in and right away starts working to build consensus, listening to those who have been there longer and seeking to understand the issues before making any drastic decisions.
How can two people in such similar situations take such radically divergent approaches?
Control goes hand-in-hand with micro-managing…both of which tend to neglect the skills and expertise of those hired to do their jobs.
- Listen fully
- Share differences openly
- Find truths that integrate opposing perspectives. (Source: Nick Heap)
if the leadership literature tells us anything, it is that no one leadership style is right for all situations.
Again, we don’t have to choose between one or the other. Instead, we can agree that we must build relationships and then decide what is the best approach for making decisions in particular situations. For example, in Crucial Conversations, the authors suggest 4 methods of decision-making along with 4 questions to ask (hmm, I feel a diagram coming on):
- Command – Use this approach when it’s a “low-stakes issue” or we have “complete trust in the ability of the delegate to make the right decision. More involvement adds nothing.” In this approach, it’s important to identify which elements are flexible and which are not, then allow others to provide feedback on flexible items. Also, explain the reason why.
- Consult – This approach is used when “the decision-maker invites others to influence them before they make their choice.” Often people feel that they shouldn’t be asked about something if you’re just going to do something…and that makes sense, right? There’s unclear expectations about the consultation process, especially if a leader has already made up their mind. If you let people know what to expect up front about the process, when you report your decision they won’t be as surprised.
- Vote – This is best used when “efficiency is the highest value and there are a number of good options” but “should never be used when team members don’t agree to support whatever decision is made.” Use voting to eliminate many choices down to a few, then consider using consensus to make the final selection. Avoid using voting as a way to avoid dialogue.
- Consensus – This approach should only be used with high-stakes and complex issues OR issues where everyone absolutely must support the final choice. That said, the authors of encourage one to be aware that just because you engage in consensus doesn’t mean the final choice will be exactly what they want.
Disclaimer: I’m playing with ideas in this blog post. I have never been a farmer in my life and pray that in the coming zombie apocalypse, I don’t have to learn that skill that kept humans alive for thousands of years (and still does!).
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