“My friend Danny recently summarized what he’s learned from years of fatherhood: “Being right isn’t necessarily what matters.” - from Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
I am gong to describe a situation, let me know if this sounds familiar.
A person is trying to teach a child the concept of multiplication in mathematics. They tell the child that 5x5 =25, then they ask them to memorize this, and rhetorically ask them if they understood what just happened. Now they ask the child a question, what is 5x6? the child thinks for a while and then says 81? The person who asked the question gets frustrated at the child for not having thought about the answer and not seeing the logical connection between 5x5 and 5x6 which seems obvious to them. The person then tells the child that the answer is 30! and tells them to remember that for next time.
A few days later the person asks the child what is 5x6, the child thinks hard and remembers the answer, 30! Great, says the person, this must be working, now we are getting somewhere. Okay what is 5x7, the child thinks for a while and says 92! confidently. NO!, frustrated again the person tells the child that 5x7 =35, and follows it up with “Remember that for next time!”
A few days later…..
I hope you can see where this is going, and its parallels with the top down management style widely used across industries and company types. Throughout my career I have seen this pattern repeated in large and small companies, fortune 500s, startups and nonprofits.
Having a single person with all of the context and knowledge does not empower a team to learn and make good decisions. The assumption of management and managers is that they have been clear, but in reality they often provide very little information and even if they have, no tools to empower their people to solve the problems at hand.
Being a good leader is not just about providing a clear goal, it is also about providing the support and the tools, both tactical and conceptual, to help teams learn for themselves. Only then can you disrupt this broken cycle and create real solutions and sustainable creative environments that people want to be in and learn from.