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Sorry Sir, that will not work.

Is it good for a boss to always take charge and lead from the front?

Dictatorial style of management has several advantages. Plans are formulated quickly and decisions come even quicker. Action and outcomes are normally swift.
The problems with bosses is that they inevitably come to believe that they alone know what is to be done, and how it has to be done, etc.
They do not realise it, but in many cases they are defeated even before they start.

Here is an example;
Every fortnight we held a planning meet wherein we had all the heads of all departments would sit in to review the performance of previous fortnight and month. We would also review execution plans for the next fortnight and month.
At these meetings we would review all failures and slippages pertaining to quality, quantity, schedule compliance and budgets and project status.
As the boss I would try to understand what had transpired and almost always immedeately propose a solution. This worked wonderfully when the team comprised just a few staff and managers.

As we grew the number of managers in our team increased. I observed an inexplicable phenomenon.
Problems increased and solutions were not coming forth. I went into high gear, proposing more and more solutions to my team at every planning and review meet.
Strangely my managers would usually object to the solution for some reason or the other. Then I would propose several alternatives and sure enough the team or the concerned manager would rebut "Sir that will not work." then it would be followed up by what normally appeared to be a perfectly valid reason why infact the proposed solution was unworkable.

This was an extremely frustrating situation. Here I was at the helm of affairs, encountering serious problems that must be tackled effectively and quickly, yet my team refused to accept even one of several alternative solutions I was proposing. I simply rammed solutions down , but it was exhausting, me and slowing down our organisation’s growth and well being.
I realised I was not leading I was simply driving my team. What was wrong with the people I had?

One day after a planning and review meeting, Keith (who was responsible for Information Technology management) and I were discussing some matters. Since Keith's role in the organisation was in a support function and therefore was not directly involved in day to day manufacturing responsibility, I asked him a blunt question. "Keith, what do you think I am doing wrong ? Why is my team not responding and why do they appear to be so negative?".

When one is in the thick of matters, it is quite easy to be immersed in the routine and thus we overlook the obvious.
Keith was cautious in his response. Probably he knew off the danger of offering advice to an aggressive boss. He asked, "Sir may I ask a few questions?"
1. Who is the boss?
2. Who is responsible for the work to be carried out in a particular area or function?
3. Who should find the solutions?

The answers to these questions appeared to be obvious. I was a little upset with Keith for giving me such useless and evasive responses.

Sure, I was the boss. My individual team members were responsible for the work in their areas and of course they should find the solutions.
It was silly of me to have asked Keith for advice. I was quite upset and I could not get Keith's response out of my mind.

A little introspection revealed the wisdom of Keith’s observations and questions.
Asking the right questions is a powerful way to evolving solutions. That is what a good teacher, adviser or friend does. They force you to think and to review your approach.

At the next meeting I tried to detach myself as a participant and observed my own conduct and leadership style.
"Oh my God! Keith was right"
I realised that I was giving almost no space to my managers. They had no independence to take initiative and therefore had little or no managerial scope and hence possessed no desire to develop. I analysed that I relish challenges for it gave me a chance to better myself. At every opportunity I would jump to the head of the column and try to lead from the front.

A solo playing boss does not need team players, he needs flunkies and props. It was clear I loved to lead and I loved problems. My dictate and drive approach was the culprit. In any team effort solo players are a liability. I was the problem.

It is easier to make an elephant dance than to change a person’s nature. That is why even the best players and leaders in the world have coaches to help them improve. Tiger Woods the great golfer needs a coach too.
I started to observe my own behaviour and was horrified to learn that I was possible the main cause of my team's poor initiatives.

My team had no ownership for the issues involved and the problems were seen as my creations and therefore expected me to direct how they were to be resolved. I always loved to be in the driver’s seat, what a great thing for an ego. Now it had become my Achilles heel.

At the following review and planning meeting I changed my approach and I asked the concerned managers, how they intended to resolve the problem. They just looked at me blankly or with that 'deer in the headlamp' blank stare. They had been weaned on my continuous directions and support. They simply found it difficult to take the initiative.

Consciously I learnt to be less dominating and pave way for dialogue.
It is ok if you want to be the only locomotive, then you have to pull the whole train all by yourself. If you develop your team members you need to pull a smaller but more strategic load, as you have several other managers and functional leaders sharing the load.

I encouraged my team members to propose solutions to problems that I would normally have resolved by my unilateral style of decision making. The acceptance or rejection lay with me and now the shoe was on the other foot.

While this worked to some extent it had a serious weakness. While the problems were in their various domains or functional areas , the origins of the problem in some decision or policy or actions taken in another department. They had ownership for fixes to problems but not solutions.

It is easier to prevent problems than trying to fix them. From fixing problems we then shifted to preventing problems and screw-ups. This was achieved by giving individuals and the team significant ownership of the planning process.
Once they identified themselves with the plans, they automatically took ownership of both plans and solutions.

Along with my brothers my job was now to provide strategic direction and pace.
I learnt rather slowly that to become a world class organisation I had to facilitate the team's functioning by providing policy, and resources. More important was empowering them so they could to do their jobs and meet expectations more effectively, while simultaneously expending minimum of resources.

From a dictator, I had become a facilitator. Without proper facilitation no team can reach its maximum potential. This was empowerment.
Organisations do not become good or great in a day or in a year or in one step, they evolve into great organisations by empowering their people. ( Assuming you have reasonably good and competent people to start with)

p.s. Our approach worked great. Empowerment is a powerful approach unleashing people’s best potential. However it is not a panache for all problems.
It will be interesting to hear from readers about their experiences with empowerment.
The concerns and the steps to be taken to get the best out of not leading from the front and empowering people, I hope to cover in another blog posting.


  1. Anish Poojara said;
    Nice Reading

  2. Arun Pabalkar said;
    Always waiting for your next blog posting to know most valuable experiences of your life & learn some think out of it.

    Thanks & Regards,



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