Have you ever questioned a decision made by leadership? Maybe EVERY decision made by leadership?
My guess is everyone’s answer is “yes” to the first question! For those of you who answered “yes” to both, we’ll write another post for you soon!
Everybody at some point questions those in leadership. In some cases the questions are warranted. But in every case there is a danger in not knowing what we don’t know. Let me explain by pointing to a recent news article published in the NY Times, and then we will circle back and try to learn something together.
Remember the season in our country where President George W. Bush was being heavily criticized for leading our country into a war after claiming Iraq was militarizing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? Remember how some in the media (well, the vast majority in the media) raked the President over the coals when no WMD could be found. Remember how the Democrats capitalized on this news – politicized this news?
Well, as it turns out, chemical weapons WERE found – a ton of them! But, for national security (among other reason, I assume), the American public was not informed of these findings. Why? I’m not certain, because I’m not that smart and I’m not the President. But here is what I do know, and again, here is what this recent revelation should help us all remember:
Our leaders carry a heavier weight that we carry, they have more information that we have, and they are forced to make decisions and set directions in the face of our criticism without us knowing the full story.
I know using the President as an example is a bit extreme, but think about it. At any point in time, half the country is outraged about a presidential decision, yet NOBODY in the country other than the President has the full knowledge he has OR carries the full weight he carries. And the same is true for every leader – including my boss and your boss. Until you feel the full weight your boss carries, it’s unfair to assume we know more or would decide differently. Or to state it differently (and in tweet able form!): It’s unfair to fully question leadership without fully sharing the weight they carry.
As a leader in a fast growing organization myself, sitting under the leader of the largest church in the country, I understand this more now than ever. Here are a few tips that might help you see your boss in a new light:
1. Recognize you carry a different weight.
I know you might lead a lot, are spread thin, and feel the weight of your responsibilities, but the person above you feels that in multiples. In my world, I have eight direct reports. That means at a minimum, I feel eight times the weight of any one of my direct reports. Sure, it’s probably not that simple, but it’s not that far off, either.
Application: Recognize leadership comes with different weights.
2. Acknowledge the information gaps.
This one takes a little humility, but we should all recognize (for the most part) we are working off limited information relative to our leadership. Again, take the President as an extreme example. He is provided daily with information you will NEVER know; yet we all feel free to question every direction he takes and assume his decisions are erroneous. Seriously?
The same is true in every organization and with every leader – from the President of the country to the leader of your department.
Application: Question your information before you question your boss’ decision.
3. Seek to help more than you seek to question.
If you really want to understand your boss or leader, try to help them more and question them less. Here’s what I’ve learned personally: The more I stand along side of leadership, the better I understand them, their decisions, and the directions they set. It’s like being at the gym – you can spot a person in support or your can watch them and wonder. From experience, the guy on the bench appreciates your support more than your wonderment. Even better, when you spot, you get a feel for the true weight without being crushed by it.
Application: Come along side to support your boss more than you stand on the outside and question your boss.
4. Believe the best (rather than assume the worst).
That is common language in our organization, and it’s important to this conversion. Let’s be honest – most of us do not fully understand the weight our boss carries. In turn, your direct reports don’t feel the weight you carry. So, when decisions are passed down, we have the opportunity to “believe the best.” We can choose to trust. We can believe our leaders made the best decision. Lastly, we can recognize our desire to question their decisions is based on partial information. We don’t feel the full weight.
Application: When you don’t understand, choose to believe the best.
5. Don’t stop questioning; just redirect your questions.
We should always feel free to question, but our questions should be posed to help us understand, not make a point or build a complaint. Most leaders appreciate questions that illuminate our understanding.
Application: Ask your boss WHY they made a specific decision rather than complaining to a peer about a specific decision.
The good news is simple: The more you seek to support and understand your bosses weight, the better prepared you will be to carry it one day. In fact, I would suggest the more you can share the load, the faster you will be asked to carry the full load.
So, have you found yourself questioning leadership? Frequently? How often would you say your questions come from a lack of full understanding or an appreciation for the weight they carry? Leave a comment and let me know how you have seen this done well. And feel free to share this post to get other opinions in the conversation.