Sun | Sep 15, 2019

Trevor E. S. Smith | 'When I want your opinion, I will tell you what it is'

Published:Sunday | September 30, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Arrogance? Disrespect? Pressure? Trudy threw that statement into our 'Certified Behavioural Coach' live session discussion. We were exploring the role of openness and freedom of expression in determining whether a team performs at a high level or is dysfunctional.

What is the situation in your team or group?

Do members feel free to share their views openly? Is there fear of retribution if one expresses opinions that are opposed to the leader's position?




Is there the presence of informal after-meetings or lunch room banter during which the genuine views of members are aired?

I remember the huddles in my office until I refused to be a back-door channel for getting information to the leader. We would never achieve a healthy workplace until people had the courage to express their views and leaders respected the value of the honest exchange of views.




Many of you would be revolted by the title statement. What kind of leader could be so disrespectful?

I agree there is no defence for that kind of thinking. Having said that, I invite you to do a bit of self-examination.

You are leading a project team. There is a critical deadline that must be met. The consequences are so dire that you do not even want to consider them.

You have clarity about what needs to be done and how it should be done. As you move forward, the team is distracted by a member that bogs the group down in examining and re-examining non-critical issues. These distractions chew up time and if continued, could throw the whole project off schedule.

Do you encourage this healthy freedom of expression? Do you celebrate the fact that you have an environment in which views are able to contend without fear?

Alternatively, do you take steps to shut down the distractions and impose your will?

If you take the decision that meeting the deadline is more important that achieving consensus and allowing freedom of expression, is that very different from saying that you do not want to hear his opinion?




As I write this, the words Situational Leadership pops into my head to describe a mind-set that is essential for successful leadership. Leaders must adapt their strategy and approach to different situations. (Sidebar: I googled Situational Leadership and Hersey/Blanchard has a theory around it).

There are circumstances that invite a brainstorming session in which all ideas are posted on the whiteboard without any evaluation or screening. We will refine those thoughts later and extract the ones that add value.

There are also times when it is healthy to have a voice of caution to keep the team grounded and to avoid careless mistakes arising from over-exuberance.

Then are times when you need to be focused on selling buy-in and encouraging engagement and sustained motivation.

It appears that there is a readiness to accept when leaders act in those modes. However, when there is a lot at stake and strong, decisive leadership is demanded, people become uncomfortable and might even resist.

Amazingly, it is precisely when so much is at stake that unified, laser-focused action is required.

Weak leadership in a crisis is a prescription for failure. Grab the reins to secure a better future.




That brings us to the issue of trust. If the leader has managed to build up a storehouse of credibility, members might be willing to trust her judgement and go along despite their reservations.

When there is a low trust and no track record of success, my way or the highway approaches are likely to be resisted.




Build trust. How? Listen!

Build credibility. How? Perform!




Request a no-cost consultation on developing high performing teams in your organisation.

- Trevor E. S. Smith and the Success with People Academy team prepare and certify leadership professionals and coach/mentors and develop engaged, high-performing teams. Hire smart with their recruitment solutions. Now enrolling coaches in the ICF/SHRM-Accredited Certified Behavioural Coach programme. Email: