Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership and knowing when you are and are not just speaking for yourself

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 11, 2011

I have been posting what amounts to an informal, loosely organized series on leadership best practices through most of the span of writing this blog, and much of that can be found at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page, and in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its Part 2 page.

I add to that occasional series with this posting, where I will be discussing a complex set of issues that any organizational leader eventually finds themselves facing – finding and understanding their boundaries and particularly where they have to take positions and make decisions at work. Quite simply, there are times and circumstances where a leader has to speak for their team and their organization and there are times when they should simply be speaking for themselves.

There are no simple hard and fast rules that would unequivocally help to determine when to speak for the organization and when to only speak for yourself, but my goal here is to outline some of the considerations that should go into knowing what type of situation you face.

• As a first take at this, if you are explicitly representing your business or organization, as for example when negotiating on its behalf, you need to speak for the organization and not simply for yourself.

I will add that this basic principle applies in large part for single person businesses in separating professional and personal lives too. There, this is about drawing a distinction between business policy and its execution, and personal voice.

• If, on the other hand, you are in a situation where others in your organization have a stake and need a voice, you have be able to separate yourself from the role of speaking from the role of business leader or owner, and allow others to form and voice opinion and to share information too.
• When it comes time to make a final and binding decision you may have to switch back to speaking for the organization as a whole but if you only do that you loose a tremendous source of value in the perspectives and experience of the people who work for you. And ultimately you loose them too.

The trick here is in knowing when you need to switch roles and perspectives, and in creating a safe environment for your team to speak up and share their voices in – but one where they also know when you need to make that deciding choice and close off the conversation.

The basic issues and principles I write of here apply equally to the contexts of startups and early stage businesses, and to well-established businesses. They apply to for profit and to nonprofit and not for profit businesses and organizations. Perhaps more tellingly they apply to authoritarian organizations and to more open and democratically organized businesses too, insofar as leaders need feedback if they are to make effective decisions, and sometimes someone has to make decisive decisions and actually lead.

My goal in this posting is to provoke thought, and to encourage at least a mental review of your own organization and you leadership and communications styles – and their effectiveness and where you may be facilitating friction rather than productivity and function.

You can find this and related postings in Business Strategy and Operations – 2 and also see my first directory page on this topic area: Business Strategy and Operations. And for a related posting with a startup orientation see Maintaining Vision While Loosening Our Grip in Startups and Early Stage Businesses.

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