When Your Leader Is Most Influenced by the Last Conversation
In an ever-changing world and marketplace, strategy and decision-making are increasingly complex. As a result, leaders who work through an issue with team members can find themselves waffling back and forth between alternate courses of action, all of which have their upsides and downsides.
Without realizing it, leaders who struggle with the complexity and the consequences of a decision will often let the last person they talk to have an oversized influence on their thinking.
A leader who gives more weight to the last conversation will infuriate the rest of the team. Team members who were not the last voice begin to believe the leader is wishy-washy or without the conviction to create a strong view on their own.
Worse yet, team members who experience this pattern will often jockey for position in an attempt to be the last to discuss the issue. This creates dysfunction for everyone.
Aside from a leader who gets feedback about this tendency and acts on it, there are no simple solutions to combat this decision-making disease.
What team members can do is follow up on any substantive discussion with their leader. By quickly sending an email of gratitude for the conversation and highlighting areas of alignment, agreement, and decision, those below the waffling leader can shore up their own advocacy.
Leaders who receive confirmatory messages become somewhat constrained by them. It doesn’t mean they won’t allow the last conversation to have an undue influence, but it does remind the leader not to disregard whatever advocacy they have already received.
Expressing genuine appreciation for the insights gained, the understandings brokered, and the alignment achieved should always preempt the outline of what was discussed and agreed upon.
Putting this message in writing serves as a strong reminder of the ground already covered. Better yet, it is a reminder that can be referred to, if necessary.
Leaders who allow the last conversation to overly color their views are sometimes weak-minded, but more typically are strong decision-makers grappling with a question without a straightforward answer. Reminding them, in writing, of what you had to say on the topic helps to keep them more objective.
At last, a workable offset.
I had a leader who had a reputation for forgetting that he had already made a decision surrounding specific issues. He was getting older and the age was obvious tipping into a cognitive decline.
It created a very weird competition among various direct reports to work this awkward system.
A "no" decision on some EVP's pet project was not a firm "no" unless there were rivals in the room to hear it who would keep others accountable. Weird, weird, weird.