As a leader, I often hope to achieve consensus by working with individuals and groups to get them to a common ground. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible. I recently had several experiences where I had to push an issue until several people got upset with me. If you are practicing true leadership, sometimes you’re going to have to make people uncomfortable.
If you’re a avid reader of leadership books, you’ll notice that many of them give you tips on how to be a better leader. Not many of them will tell you that sometimes you will alienate some of your team. I was once asked to step in and manage a project which I knew nothing because there were problems with coordination and teamwork. I was technically the “coordinator” and not managing the effort. However, as I learned more about the technology, I began to suspect that the “experts” weren’t quite covering all the bases. By asking questions I began to make some of the team members uncomfortable. I knew this because of some of the responses I was getting back.
“Why do you care about this?”
“This isn’t your area so just accept what I say!”
“I’m the expert, you’re not. You are dead wrong and I’ll prove it!”
How would that make you feel? As someone not familiar with the technology it made me feel very uncomfortable. Although I was getting some serious push back from some of the team members, it was interesting to note that I also go some head nods as I asked the questions. Obviously there were at least a few others who also had some questions.
The specific incident I want to tell you about occurred when the main subject matter expert basically told me to butt out. As leader, I couldn’t. Now, I didn’t blindly plod ahead to stubbornly challenge someone who in reality knew a lot more than me. I had to actually learn something about the technology and then thoughtfully made a case for why I thought we were overlooking some issues and then pushed the issue to other experts who then confirmed my suspicions.
I don’t tell you this because I’m looking for a pat on the back as I’ve asked questions before and have been wrong. The point I am trying to make is that as a leader, you are going to have to make others feel uncomfortable. It is your responsibility to ask the tough questions that no one else will.
Ask tough questions!