On the Shoulders of Giants

by Brian SperonelloIcon

When Asking for Opinions is Merely Fear of Accountability (Pt. 1)

There is an art to knowing the difference between when you actually need advice, and when you're simply looking for ways to hide your own accountability out of fear. The following two passages both discuss the act of involving other people in the decision-making process, however the tones for each are drastically different. Tom Peters looks at asking for feedback as an unquestionably good thing, while Robert Greene looks at it as a source of weakness for a leader.

Tom Peters says:

"Our colleague Dave Wheeler said, in a comment at tompeters.com: “The 4 most important words in management are...What do you think?...we understand that we rise or fall on the engagement and intelligence and constant contributions of 100 percent of us.” – The Little BIG Things - p.155
Robert Greene says:
"[Leading from behind] can also mean involving lieutenants and other generals in important decisions, choosing to lead by committee. In both cases, the commander is trying to hide himself from scrutiny, accountability, and danger. The greatest generals in history, however, are invariably those who lead from the front and by themselves." – The 50th Law - p. 157
There is an obvious conflict here. While there there are numerous examples of when the feedback of a trusted partner is crucial to the success of a project, there are also plenty of times when asking for feedback serves as a way to put off the difficult but inevitable decision you have to make. The truth seems to be somewhere between these two points of view.

The problem is that most people are either unaware of Greene's stance, or choose to ignore it. Fear and the illusion of deniability become the main motivators for them. They would rather be able to say, "Everyone agreed to do something stupid, so it's not my fault that the team did something stupid," instead of championing an idea that is unpopular, more difficult, but ultimately the right thing to do. By acknowledging Greene's side of the argument, you can begin to make an effort to recognize the appropriate times to look for feedback, and when it's time to make decisions like someone who leads from the front.

This post stands on the shoulders of:

Robert Greene: The concept of leading from the front.

Tom Peters: The idea that organizations thrive on the "engagement and intelligence and constant contributions of 100 percent of us."


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