Editor’s note: This guest commentary was written by Patti and Ken Leith, the founders of Bentonville-based EDGES, Inc. and Fort Collins, Colorado-based (e)Gauge, Inc. You can download a white paper on this subject and explore other leadership topics at www.getedges.com.
As you read this article, think back to a time when you felt strongly about something, and you worked closely with someone who felt differently. In most situations like this, the difference of opinion causes friction. This plays out many ways, depending on the people involved.
Sometimes people can get quite competitive to make their idea prevail in the final chosen solution. This may be fine if the idea is right, but a strict focus on winning obscures the focus on what is best.
Sometimes people who are robust talkers make their ideas prevail. This is usually because the quieter individuals do not see the value in expending effort against the more direct person.
Another way this could (and probably should) end, is that both parties together effectively reach a better solution than either one was by itself.
The ability to develop, plan, and execute strategy involves a number of skill sets that are not likely to be possessed by just one person. This assortment of skills presents a challenge in the fact that, when we are different enough to make all the parts of strategy happen, we are also different enough to have challenges working together.
Let’s consider three methods of approaching strategy, and their value.
First, those who think from a longer-term, bigger-picture perspective will be able to develop strategy and vision and define future goals. Second, those who think from a practical, detail-oriented perspective will be able to develop a plan for strategy execution. Third, those who balance big-picture thinking with implementation planning will help the team connect its actions to the strategic plan.
Sounds easy, right?
The problem is that differences cause friction that can impact the ability to collaborate. If you are the visionary, then you may view the other two methods as less strategic, too practical, or idea killers. If you are the practical executer, you may view the other two methods as inefficient, impractical, and unable to complete anything. If you are the connector, you may be surprised and even frustrated that others don’t see the connection.
In most cases, these differences cause us to judge others as less competent than ourselves, which then causes us to give less consideration to their ideas. Teams can collaborate better if members choose to respect each other’s differences. Taking this step is a necessary part of accomplishing strategy. When we respect differences and appreciate the areas in which others are more skilled, we can solidify a much more comprehensive approach to effective strategy.
The key skills necessary for planning involve collaboration, influence, and contributing to all levels of the planning, even if the contribution is simply accepting the need for methods of thinking that are not quite in line with our own. Strong contributors should be intentionally open to new ideas, as well as able to fairly evaluate the feasibility of the idea.
Let’s consider the definition of collaboration and influence, as opposed to consensus and negotiation.
Collaboration is a group’s willingness to solicit and consider ideas from all potential contributors. It is not consensus, which refers to the ability to develop a group solution that everyone fully supports. Gaining full consensus is highly unlikely, but people are more likely to support those ideas they had a chance to discuss.
Influence is the ability to help a person understand someone else’s perspective. It is not negotiation, which fosters a mentality of taking a solid stand to win. With influence, there is not a winner; everyone just becomes more enlightened.
Organizations that fully engage their leadership teams in Strategic Planning can set the course for their future. Leaders should gather input from the people on the teams they direct in order to come prepared to consider a number of different perspectives. Without solid strategic planning, the organization’s path is likely to remain cluttered, ambiguous, and difficult to achieve. Leadership teams can collectively take control of their future, providing a pivotal shift toward success.