The Humility Stick

Charalambos Vlachoutsicos is an adjunct professor in the International MBA Program at Athens University of Economics and Business.  He has had a long career in business as well, and is a frequent Harvard Business Review contributor.  His pedigree is quite impressive, and he also includes coauthorship of Behind the Factory Walls: Decision Making in Soviet and U.S. Enterprises among his accomplishments.  With all of that credibility – one of the most compelling stories he shares is one of humility.  He recounts his growth into the family business that included many helpful mentors.  Not that he exactly listened to all of them.  In fact, he had a stronger drive to prove he could be decisive than to prove he was a good listener.  If after a discussion there was no clear agreement, he would state, “Since we don’t agree, I’m making the decision, and here’s what it is.”

Eventually he noticed that people stopped asking questions.  Upstart that he was, he took this as proof of his stellar leadership skills.  Finally his bad decisions became obvious to him and he started asking his mentors and peers why he didn’t get any criticism.  They told him they felt like he had already made the decision and must have done so with either more knowledge than they had, or without regard for their opinion.  They even expected him to react poorly to criticism so would merely follow his lead.  Vlachoutsicos immediately recognized his error, apologized, and started working toward building consensus.  When people trusted his sincerity and desire for input they started engaging again and fewer mistakes were made.

The final element to engage your employees is “don’t insist that a decision must be made.” Buck the convention that says a flawed decision is better than no decision – after all you change direction and learn from your mistakes.  Instead, put a process in place that encourages decisions that can be made, even if it must be slowly, so that everyone can accept them even if they don’t completely agree.  This will allow for free discussion, respect for ideas, and employees that will continue to contribute the next go around.

These six elements that we have reviewed will help you build mutuality with your employees.  We are dependent on our subordinates to help make decisions and implement them effectively.  When they feel respected, engaged and empowered; your organization will enjoy smarter, better-executed decisions and a healthy culture.  We love to help organizations build healthy communication and culture, let us know if we can lend a hand.


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