I’m Asking Your Opinion, Not Giving You My Authority Getting Buy-In from Your Team
We must be clear that when we ask for advice, we are not giving away our authority. When we seek consensus, we are not forfeiting our right to the final word.
The best way to lead is with gentleness, and that’s what I practice. However, that only works when everyone is clear who has the final authority.
I learned the hard way.
I worked in an organization for eight years where I was not the final authority. I was second in command. As a leader, I never confused who the boss was. It was not me. I lead, I impacted, but I always respectfully deferred the final decision to my boss, willingly and cheerfully. When I disagreed with a decision, I always made my opinion known. That was my responsibility. But I also made it clear to my boss, and to those who reported to me, that I reserved the final authority for him. I did this intentionally out of respect and in order to model healthy followership.
Strong leaders are great followers.
During my tenure as second in command, I once promoted a key manager in our organization. Before I did, I solicited the opinions of several leaders. Many supported me, but a few did not. When the person was promoted, chaos ensued. Some of those who did not support my decision came to me and inquired, “Why did you ask us if you did not want to do what we suggested?”
As I reflect back on that place in my leadership journey, I was not clear on this principle. What I should have done is express to the other leaders from the outset, “I really appreciate your opinion, but I want to make sure you will be okay with my decision even if does not align with your own.” In other words, asking your opinion does not mean I am giving you the right to make the final decision.
Lead with gentleness, but be clear about your authority.
Together is one of my favorite words in leadership. When leadership is healthy, everyone feels we are going places together. We are not pawns in the hands of our mighty leader. Rather when we lead this way, we create a beautiful journey with our people, and we go far.
When my people forget I am the boss, I love it. When our relationship is more like friends, comrades, and sojourners working and struggling together, that’s when the magic happens. That’s when great things are accomplished together. But, even within our close relationship, it is imperative that the lines are clear.
Occasionally people confuse my genuine desire to make decisions together with me giving my authority away. At the end of the day, I am responsible for the team I lead. You are too if you have been given authority. That burden qualifies you to retain the right to make final decisions.
Clarify your boundaries, but never lord it over others.
If you have worked with me, you know I do not advocate lording authority over others. And those who do and will not change, simply get fired. I believe we should operate in love and gentleness, particularly as leaders. However, this approach is only successful when boundaries are well defined. If those lines are blurred, or are not respected, disorder always follows.
As I mentioned above, my mistake of not clearly defining the lines of authority cost our company heavily. I encourage you to identify your boundaries when you bring people close. Anytime you seek advice or consensus, be mindful about the other person or group’s understanding of the boundaries. If you sense they may be unclear, you will want to gently, but clearly, reinforce them. And you’ll have to be even more aware of this in newer relationships.
When I want to clarify expectations, I do so clearly, but gingerly. It’s all in the choice of words, the tone of voice, and the timing of the conversation. First, I am careful not to project my authority. It’s off-putting. No one wants to be reminded of your authority all the time. If someone is doing that to me, it is usually my cue to exit the relationship. Well-defined boundaries promote healthy relationships. And when I need to clarify them, I use phrases like these:
“Thank you for your opinion. You bring so much value to our team and add a perspective I don’t have.”
Here, I stop and wait for them to smile and receive my affirmation, and maybe say “thank you” before I continue.
“I just want to make sure you will be okay in the case I decide not to go in the direction you recommend; you will not be offended or upset.”
If the boundaries are clear, the person will often say, “of course not.” Note that when I say, “in the case I decide,” I am clearly, but gently, reminding them that I will make the final decision.
I hope this was helpful to you, my friend, as you think about your own leadership and of the leadership of those with you in your organization.
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