Leadership is not simple – There are many ‘rights’

As I have written in many of my past posts, I realised there was a pattern developing.  I’d express a view on good management and leadership, but then I’d feel the need to say, ‘ah but’ as I thought of situations where my ‘guidelines’ wouldn’t apply.  As someone who doesn’t like people who sit on the fence and aren’t prepared to ‘stand up and be counted’ and ‘stick their head above the parapet’ , I began to criticise myself for not being more definitive.

This worried me for a while, and then the reason for my behaviour it came to me.  Leadership and management is complex.  You are dealing with people and situations which cannot be fully addressed with simple rules. If it was simple, they’d be a right and a wrong decision for every circumstance and we’d all know exactly what to do … and all our businesses would be identical as we’d all choose to address the same most lucrative market with the same best products and the same best staff!

Looking back on my ten years as a Chief Executive and Managing Director and the preceding ten running business units, I’ve realised that rarely have I faced a decision that had a right or wrong answer.  Most of the time I faced choices that would lead to different outcomes, and they might be a bit more or less desirable, but there was no clear right and wrong. It was mainly that they just led to a different likely mix of outcomes.

That in turn led me to the problem with some management training.  Some courses approach a management topic as if right and wrong is clear-cut.  This is the right way to do something, this is the wrong way.  Whilst I agree there can be wrong ways, I’m convinced that in management and leadership there is often more than one right way, depending upon what outcomes you want.  So all that the tools you learn on an MBA or the like can do is help you to understand the world and understand the likely consequences of the choice you make.  They cannot determine for you which choice is right!

And that thought helped me to understand another reason why I find MD2MD so valuable.  By sharing a challenging decision with a dozen peers from different businesses in different sectors, with different experiences and different personalities, you don’t get to a single, right answer.  You do get to understand a dozen different perspectives of the situation, from the hawk to the dove, with the odd wild maverick thought thrown in, and as a result you understand the likely consequences in a range of dimensions so much better.  Just how will your decision be seen by the cynical investor?  Just how will the gentle but loyal receptionist react?  Just how can you manage your key contact at your major customer through this disruption? Had you even thought about that?

Written by Bob Bradley, founder of MD2MD

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