I was attending a leadership team meeting where the topic of the discussion was bringing clarity to the roles and responsibilities of three of the key functions in the company who work closely together.
The lack of clarity in these roles and responsibilities was causing internal and external angst; team members were competing for deals, projects and who is the lead in each scenario, and customers were feeling confused about who they should go to with their opportunities and challenges.
Needless to say, this reality was hurting the company as a whole in terms of efficiency, ability to scale, morale, business results, and reputation.
Instead of dictating and mandating the answer the CEO wanted the senior leaders to reach an agreement through consensus.
The dynamic of the debate was contrived and awkward because even the leaders who had a stake in the outcome and therefore had a clear bias toward how they wanted the roles to be divided and defined, were holding back and conveying their thoughts in a diplomatic way.
People kept highlighting the challenges and dilemmas instead of clearly stating their thoughts about their desirable solution. There was a lot of: “Well, the problem is that each of us has strong exposure and contact with our key customers…” or “The problem is that we all do this today, and we all are good at this…” or “We need to figure out a way to define clear boundary lines without demotivating our people, promoting cross-selling to our customers, for the good of the whole….” etc. etc.
The conversations dragged on for hours. It was ineffective and, to be frank, it was exhausting and brutally painful.
Unfortunately, I see this dynamic in key business conversations and meetings all the time – people state the obvious instead of taking a stand about the way forward.
One reason for this is that people think there is a right answer to any given dilemma or issue. This is simply not true, especially in this day and age. Things change so quickly. There are so many examples of the obvious becoming questionable, the fashionable becoming obsolete and the unexpected becoming the norm.
There are no right or wrong answers, only possibilities, and choices. The role of leadership is to make these choices and then be responsible for carrying them out. That is what taking a stand is about. Pure creation.
The other reason is that people lack the courage to take a stand. They fear that if they clearly state their stand about such critical and sensitive topics such as strategy or organizational structure their idea may not get selected or if their idea does get selected it then fails. In addition, they fear they’ll be viewed as ‘forceful’, ‘self-serving’ or ‘political’. They are concerned about what others would think of them and how their clear stand could hurt them in the future. The phrase ‘career limiting move’ comes to mind…
But, if you want things to move faster, your meetings to be briefer and more productive and your experience of day-to-day business interaction to be much more satisfying, then be more courageous, clear and assertive about the future you want and stand for.
Just don’t be arrogant or get too attached to your answer, especially if you are part of a team. Someone else’s suggested way may be a better fit for what the team needs. Be open to that.
Instead, promote a dialogue where people spend less time on pointing out the problems (which got you into this dialogue in the first place) and spend more time on taking a stand regarding solutions and directions that enable you to create and fulfill your future.