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3 Fatal Traps That Can Trip Up The Best Leadership Teams

21/02/2016 9:10 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Every organisation - whether it's a manufacturing company or a bank or a hospital -- has leadership teams. For me, every person who works in an organisation is a leader, but those who play a decisive role in charting an organisation's future have a particularly great responsibility to steer clear of certain pitfalls. In fact, any team involved in strategic decision making should be very careful or else they can jeopardise the fate of the organisation.

Leaders should proactively look for symptoms and take immediate action if they see any of the following dangerous trends.

Extreme consensus-seeking tendencies

Are you a part of a leadership team where meetings and discussions are always smooth? Do your meetings run without any opposition? The team always seems to be in unanimity?

If multiple members of a team show extreme consensus-seeking tendencies, they may have fallen victim to what psychologist Irving Janis called "groupthink".

When a few people propose something, others sometimes fall in line automatically. This could be because the person/s in question is more powerful, has a louder voice or is believed, for some reason, to be always right. Yet, those that toe the line publically may have a different point of view to share in private. Yet, they do not speak out because of the fear of rejection, annoying more powerful members or disturbing group cohesion.

If multiple members of a team show extreme consensus-seeking tendencies, they may have fallen victim to what psychologist Irving Janis called "groupthink". This is a phenomenon where the focus of the participants is to maintain unity and ensure consensus instead of being effective and dong the right thing for the organisation. Because of this the team does not look at the various alternatives. This impacts the quality of the decision and innovative, successful solutions may never see the light of day. The impact of groupthink could make leadership teams overconfident and arrogant, and close their minds to outside ideas.

The Challenger space shuttle disaster of 26 January 1986 is widely understood to be a result of groupthink, wherein the NASA team's organisational desire to have the launch resulted in overlooking a key technical issue.

Hence, it's important to have rules and processes for running meetings and all should be encouraged to participate. The person who is running or chairing these meetings should encourage conflicts, dissent and debates and even invite outsiders for their point of view. I always advocate that such meetings should have a devil's advocate so that points of view are challenged. Make sure all alternatives are looked at and that everyone provides an input before a decision is made.

Inhabiting Lake Wobegon

Lake Wobegon is a fictional town in a radio series called A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor. He usually ends the show with these lines: " "Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

"Lake Wobegon Effect" refers to the illusory belief of individuals that they are superior than others in capability, quality and achievements.

And from these lines was coined the term "Lake Wobegon Effect", which refers to the illusory belief of individuals that they are superior than others in capability, quality and achievements. Psychologists call it the "above average effect".

A leadership that succumbs to Lake Wobegon Effect is overconfident and arrogant, and not open to critique. There are other manifestations too, such as having too much faith in a firm's product or services while the market could be disrupting. It could be the CEO overrating the capability of the leadership team. It could be the leadership team overestimating their understanding of what the customer wants. It could be having unfounded faith in the existing systems and processes. Or senior leaders believing that they always know best. When a leadership team does not reach out for inputs, it can lead to employee disengagement. The illusory superiority of the leadership can kill an enterprise.

So what should the leadership team do? It's good to be confident but over-confidence is clear no no. Leadership team should reach out to others for ideas and for feedback on decisions. They should remember that they do not have all the answers and the best solutions come by involving all relevant people within and outside the organisation. Lastly, even if there is a belief that the approach being taken is correct, it helps to have a bit of self-doubt.

Getting blinded by the Halo Effect

The Halo Effect is the phenomenon wherein we make an overall impression of a person based on a single characteristic (either positive or negative). So, if a person is very good at oratory, for example, we might believe, without evidence, he's a great writer and leader too. In the case of this phenomenon applying to negative traits, it's known as the Horn Effect.

The Halo Effect is the phenomenon wherein we make an overall impression of a person based on a single characteristic (either positive or negative).

For example, just because an individual can pull off an effective town-hall, it's assumed that he will be a good change leader. If a candidate is found to be attractive during an interview, he gets selected on the assumption that he will be effective in the job. During yearend appraisals, a boss may rate a subordinate's overall performance very high based on his superlative performance on just one of the objectives. A person who is able to manage upwards is believed to be a great collaborator and someone who can deliver results. On the basis of his being a great marketing person, a Chief Marketing Officer is believed to be CEO material.

In effect, the halo effect can hinder objectivity and prevent one from seeing an accurate picture of a situation or person.

The antidote for leadership teams is to be aware of the trap. Let objectivity rule all decisions of the organization and whenever taking a view on a person, make sure the halo is isolated and all available data is looked at. Certain decisions should never be taken in isolation but in a group. Let collective wisdom prevail.

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