So much for Democracy

The people of the United Kingdom have recently taken a decision as a people, a pretty important one it would appear, to leave the EU.  At the end of it all, there is no real clarity or agreement as to why people voted one way or the other. What we do know is that, at the end of it all, 16 million people are unhappy with that decision but have to go along with the decision and live with its effects. So too will the 14 million people who chose not to take part in the voting game. It would seem that very large numbers among the 17 million victorious are not very clear about the effects or implications of their decision either. For all we know, there could be hordes of the wisest of people or the stupidest of people on the winning or the losing sides, echoing Plato’s question: “You mean the vote of the drunk on the corner has the same value as mine?” Taking a decision of this magnitude in this extremely crude way would seem quite insane. Even a penalty shootout would be better!

Autocratic Management and So-called Experts

In Business and Companies, of course, we would never resort to such madness but we have our own version of it in the form of autocratic management.   Autocratic management is often frowned upon these days because it doesn’t give the impression of inclusion, engagement and all those nice things. The problem with it, however, is a very different one – bad decisions.   This is the opposite end of the spectrum from the crude stupidity of voting mechanisms as a means of taking decisions. Here it is down to the leader, the CEO, the top dog, where the buck stops and where they not only know what should be done but are expected to know.   This is because we attribute a level of expertise to them way beyond what they actually have or could have, but which they grasp with open arms and with open bank accounts.  Putting all our trust and money on the ‘experts’  is the big mistake. Philip Tetlock who, among others, has done enormous research on experts, got over 80,000 predictions  from 284 experts in politics and economics on all kinds of forecasts and the conclusion was that dart-throwing monkeys would have done better!   What is saddest of all is that we don’t learn. We continue to churn out books with the formulae that are making today’s business leaders successful without enquiring about how the companies of the so-called successful heroes of 20 or 30 years ago are now doing.

Real Engagement and Facilitative Leadership

Thankfully, this is not a case of ‘Either – Or’, either democracy a la voting,  or autocracy a la one-‘man’ leadership.  The answer is through real engagement, not to make people feel good through paternalistic gestures, but to take good decisions, wise decisions, and decisions that have the support of everybody. This is easy to say and not so easy to do because of the expectations we put on so-called leaders to ‘lead us’ by taking decisions for us, and because of the egos and  ambition of leaders and managers happy to be called upon to do this.  The alternative approach we call Facilitative Leadership. This can sound weak but is actually stronger because of the quality of the decisions that get taken, and because of the universal support for those decisions. This does call for virtues that don’t always go hand-in-hand with ‘managing’ such as humility, respect, patience  and which will mean that Senior Team Meetings, Board Meetings etc are real consultative events.

This is not only of great importance for the quality of decisions made but it is important for other reasons too.   Can we be any happier that  decisions and directions in our Companies  enjoy any more real support than the 40% the victorious Brexit enjoyed?  And what are the implications of that for us and our organisations? And imagine what it would be like if we had 100% full support for what we are after.  That is not a dream.