The Participative Leadership Charade

February 15, 2011

Hypocrisy is the gap between what we say we believe and how we are actually behaving. A lot of leaders give lip service to diversity and inclusion, but then behave in ways that stifle dynamic participation.

If you call yourself an inclusive leader, yet your de facto test of whether or not people “fit” the culture is everyone gets along, or at least never questions or disagrees with you, then you have an integrity gap. In too many organizational cultures, “fit” means welcoming with open arms anyone that is willing to become just like one of us. Long faces, averted eye-contact, alienation and vilification are among the wages of those that just can’t seem to fit in.

Is the cohesion you think you see among your employees and peers a mirage? Is it possible that someone, maybe even you, has simply taught all those compliant faces that it’s safer to sit down and shut up than to risk full participation?

The next time you speak on behalf of your group and pronounce that “we” decided upon or agreed to something, ask yourself if anyone in the group would have a reason to say “we” does not include “me.” If you are insulated by a club of longtime friends or “trusted” advisors, it’s highly likely that your esteemed participative leadership is really just a charade.

Despite your eloquent rhetoric, if you are not responding to your folks in ways that encourage them to engage, then you are not really listening, and if you are not listening, then you really don’t care about anyone but yourself. The proof is in the behavioral pudding.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Related Posts:

Exclusivity Fits

Talking About Diversity

Advanced Change Theory: Create An Emergent System

About the Author:

Comments (9)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Pretense | Bret L. Simmons - Positive Organizational Behavior | February 22, 2011
  1. davidburkus says:

    Great post. This weekend I was reading Sutton’s “Weird Ideas That Work” and one of the over-arching themes is how people who don’t seem to be a “fit” are largely the ones responsible for innovation.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I knew I loved that Sutton guy. thanks, David! Bret

  2. Jim Taggart says:

    As we evolve from an almost homogeneous workforce of Baby Boomers to one where Gen X assumes the leadership mantle and Gen Y struggles to be heard,it will be fascinating to observe how leadership is practiced (and not practiced) within organizations.

    In my last few years with the Government of Canada before retiring in December, thousands and thousands of Gen Yers were recruited into a Baby Boomer-bloated public service. The clash of values among the generations is clearly evident. We Boomers believed in conformity and hierarchical leadership. In short, leadership (I use the word loosely) was typically tied to age and years of service. This mindset is under attack by younger workers who believe that merit and competence should precede age and service as determinants of advancement.

    My Masters thesis was on shared (participative) leadership in the publlic service. Now there’s an oxymoron!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Interesting questions, Jim. My guess is that no single generation can claim to be any more or less stupid than another. The reasons why people make decisions without consulting others, and then put up facades as if they had done the exact opposite, will unfortunately be with us for generations to come. Thanks! bret

    Jim Taggart Reply:

    Gee Bret, and I thought I was a cynic after spending too many years in government. But I hear ya! 🙂

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Not much new under the sun, including the nature of people in groups. Thanks! Bret

  3. Beth says:

    Hi Bret,

    This is a deep topic. I might suggest that many leaders don’t think of “I like sharing” as an aspect of their core identity, which may be one reason why they took the leadership track to begin with. That loner bias — coupled with natural human egotism and insecurity — can produce a deep-seated resistance to allowing into their decision-making processes others who are not carbon copies of themselves (or who at least pretend to be).

    For these Loner Leader types, it might be good to offer a few concrete ways to start leaving their comfort zone and begin forming new inclusionary habits. I can think of 3 exercises that might help:

    1. The next time you have an issue to problem-solve, ask a couple of your team members whom you might view as non-fitter-inners to brainstorm some options and get back to you with a possible game plan or two. See what kind of out-of-the-box thinking results, and mull it over trying to see it from their perspective, even if your first tendency is to nullify it. Then get back to your outsiders to validate the strong points in their thinking, even if you also have to explain why you don’t want to or can’t implement them. Leverage this discussion as a way to get some realizations for yourself about what your outsiders can contribute — and to pull them further inside as well, as you inform them that their strategizing helped you see things differently, and whenever they have similar insights, they should feel free to share them.

    2. Distribute a survey to each of your team members about a system that needs fixing or updating. As part of the survey, ask them to map out the entire current process, the way they see it happening, and identify any risk points or bottlenecks that appear to exist. Note who has a different take, and who offers an original idea about a problem or its resolution. Come away with a new awareness about your peoples’ capacity to add perspective, and determine to not only apply their worthy ideas to this problem as well as other initiatives but to credit them publicly for their contribution.

    3. Ask yourself this question about each person on your team: “What have been her/his shining moments?” Write these down, and try to find at least one common strength that runs as a theme throughout each person’s list (and the further it is from your own strong suit, the better). Determine to get back to each person one-on-one to validate that strength and invite him or her to apply it to the next things coming down the pike.

    These are some fairly painless and “non kum-ba-yah” ways to get started on a journey towards diversity appreciation and inclusion. Even confirmed Loner Leaders should be able to attempt them. Getting them to see the value behind such an attempt is another story. But like all healthy habit changes, a little initial effort will probably provide enough proof of the wisdom behind mining diverse perspectives to keep the momentum going.

    I know, I should be blogging. 🙂 – – Beth

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Ha, yes Beth, YOU should be blogging!. All great points and all based on the valid assumption that the leader even realized their was a gap in their style and cared enough to be motivated to fix it. Thanks! Bret