Eliot's Ramblings

Debugging the Boss: The True Democrat

The True Democrat never makes decisions, they only operate by total consensus. This approach will lead to just as much unhappiness in a team as ignoring their input. Egalitarianism is a good foundation for seating charts, opportunities, compensation, and promotions; it is not for strategic decision making. Put another way: fairness is not the same principle as equality.

Behavior in meetings: The True Democrat is more concerned with equal speaking time than guiding the meeting towards the best outcome. They will either advocate actively on behalf of everyone’s ideas, or they will disappear into the woodwork when consensus is not forthcoming. Either way, they cause meetings to grind along without heading towards a resolution.

Impact on team: Morale suffers as team members feel their excellence limited by the need to please everyone. Because they don’t feel like they own any particular decision, they de-invest.

Impact on product: When consensus is not easily attained, work grinds to a halt. Even when consensus can be reached the product will be built to the lowest common denominator, without differentiation. It will be be an unopinionated, “me-too” product.

Trait gone wrong: Fairness — this manager wants everyone to have input.

Debugging: Like the Best Friend, this leader needs to understand that their team members lose job satisfaction when they see merit consistently subordinated to consensus. Unlike the Best Friend, reason, not emotion, is the basis for this appeal.

Fairness to a team is not a matter of all members getting an equal say about decisions, it’s about ensuring they all get the opportunity to excel at their job. A manager must choose what decisions to empower their staff to make, matching their abilities to their areas of responsibility.

Someone in this situation has to be forced to make some tough decisions. Assign them homework: next time a debate between two reasonable choices takes more than 20 minutes to resolve in a meeting, the manager has to make the decision. Everyone will be happy they did, and it should start a trend. Even if that choice turns out to be wrong, everyone will still be happier than they’d have been had there been a stalemate. Better to take a stab, and to fail fast, then debate indefinitely.

Not to be mistaken for: The Best Friend. This manager thinks more about fairness, than they care about how people feel.

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