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Posted by on Mar 16, 2013 in Featured, Leadership, Weekend Post | 2 comments

Sometimes the Leader Should Follow

Bakke150x176From my early childhood I was encouraged to be decisive. My mother helped me start little businesses that honed my decision-making ability. When I was a quarterback in high school, my coach allowed me to call all my own plays. I held numerous leadership roles during my school years. Then I attended Harvard Business School, where the case method teaches students about decision making.

I was good at making decisions, and this ability was affirmed many times at school and at work. I enjoyed taking responsibility and living with the consequences. Then came AES, which would become a Fortune 200 global energy company, and the realization that this enjoyment should be spread around. I came to understand that as co-founder and later as CEO, I had to STOP making decisions.

The people closest to a decision often know the most about it. They are also the ones who will have to deal with the immediate results of that decision. And bosses aren’t the only people in a business capable of making good decisions. We all make decisions in our everyday lives: in our relationships, our homes, our children and with our free time. It’s just in the workplace that so many of us are not given the freedom to think, reason, and make decisions. That’s also when we, as capable individuals, stop feeling engaged, invested and valued.

I came to understand that as co-founder and later as CEO, I had to STOP making decisions.

Max De Pree writes, “Not having the chance to make decisions within the organization in which one works is a great tragedy, leading to hopelessness and despair.” This is a sober warning. When a leader acts in a manner that assumes he is the best decision maker — in other words, the most knowledgeable and responsible member of a group — everyone else feels extraneous.

The intoxicating effect of exercising power can pervert even the most selfless executives. The more decisions they make, the more comfortable they feel making them. They begin to lose touch with the people below, who end up feeling like pawns being moved around a corporate chessboard.

For many of our people, it was the first time in their working lives that they had been treated with trust and respect by their superiors. And when we distributed decisions and invited more people to take ownership in the process, we achieved the central goals of modern business: engaged people and better decisions. It was a win-win, for both our employees and our business success.

When a leader acts in a manner that assumes he is the best decision maker — in other words, the most knowledgeable and responsible member of a group — everyone else feels extraneous.

One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn is that leadership is not about managing people. People are not resources or assets to be managed. Nor is leadership about analyzing issues and making big decisions. Leaders serve an organization rather than control it.

 

Connect with Dennis

We invite you to connect with Dennis. In his bio below you’ll find ways to connect with him. You can also see what Dennis’s new book is about. Check it out in our Business Heretics Bookstore.

Art by: delgadina
 

Dennis Bakke

Dennis Bakke is the co-founder of Imagine Schools. He is the author of The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time and the New York Times bestseller Joy at Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job. Bakke previously co-founded and served as the president and CEO of AES, a Fortune 200 global power company. He lives with his wife in Arlington, VA.

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  • http://about.me/fredena.moore fredena

    So true. Everyone makes decisions in their daily lives, and everyone’s contributions makes an organization better. Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://www.frymonkeys.com/blog Alan Kay

    When I facilitate learning about leadership and collaboration I share with them the notion that leadership is not about telling folks what to do, but asking them questions about they want to have happen and how they plan to get there. Every organization is different so how you help them make decisions matters. An app developer business is very different from a bank. It all depends on the ‘rules’ of your market. Yet the principals of decision-making remain the same. The practices are variable.

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