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Leaders must lead

The Revelation ConversationAre you an includer? Do you seek input from others when decisions need to be made? Do you foster a work culture that encourages group participation and consensus?

I agree that when employees feel included, it benefits the quality of their work, level of engagement, and commitment to the organization. Over the years, participative management techniques have flourished. Managers involve stakeholders at all levels of an organization in problem-solving, decision-making, and goal setting.

It may seem fine to extend this style of management to articulating organizational purpose and core values. I would caution against this. There are times when, as a leader, you must take charge, make decisions, and accept responsibility for the results.

Asking frontline employees, customers, or vendor partners to offer suggestions for why the organization exists (organizational purpose) or to codify its fundamental beliefs and ideals (core values) is misguided. It’s a bit like asking your neighbors for their input into your life’s purpose. Sure, they’re in your community but, frankly, their input is irrelevant. Besides, if you choose this course, you’re abdicating your life’s purpose to those unqualified to shape it. That’s your role.

As the leadership expert Patrick Lencioni wrote, “Values initiatives have nothing to do with building consensus—they are about imposing a set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs on a broader group of people. Most executives understand the danger of consensus-driven decision-making when it comes to strategy, finance, and other business issues, yet they seem oblivious to the problem when it comes to developing values. Surveying all employees about what values they believe the company should adopt is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it integrates suggestions from many employees who probably don’t belong at the company in the first place. And second, it creates the false impression that all input is equally valuable.”

Customers want to do business with organizations whose purpose and core values resonate with them. That’s great, but let’s be clear: Leaders must articulate an authentic purpose and a set of core values and let the chips fall where they may with respect to customers that will or will not be attracted to those ideals. Leaders must also be true to their principles, which are timeless and do not change, as opposed to pandering to the whims of customers’ changing values and priorities.

There are times when it’s important to be inclusive and build consensus. There are also times when it’s the leader’s role to lead.

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