Business leaders should heed #chilcot criticism of “sofa” style decision-making…

businessman on sofa

…because we all know that the leadership and management errors he identified occur daily in organisations, albeit with less catastrophic implications. The behaviour in our Board rooms, Executive Committees, Trusts and Boards of Governors, and of course Cabinets, matter.

The Chilcot Inquiry criticism of “sofa” style decision-making is a grim reminder of the importance of good corporate governance that encourages challenge by dissenters. But how many leaders are emotionally equipped to encourage this?

How may times are decisions “a stitch up”? One chilling story on this topic: a member of a notoriously tough ExCom told me many years ago that “you can always tell who the new people are at ExCom meetings”. “How’s that”, I asked.  “They’re smiling” he said. “They sure as hell stop smiling after their first public slap”. No one would dare to “call out” anything or to disagree in that environment.

So, what’s to be done?  Well it’s back to Leadership101: a need for old fashioned meetings with an agenda, motions, pros and cons discussions, formal “Devil’s Advocates” in the room, votes or, at least, shows of hands and above all, Minutes written after, and not drafted before, the meeting.

The problem with this Utopian view is that the very personality traits that propel some leaders to the top are the ones which will prevent them from changing behaviour  to accommodate dissent.  But there is a chink of light here: apart form utter psychopaths – and I acknowledge that a few of these stalk the corridors of corporate power – most dysfunctional leaders are merely playing out, as the experts tell us, behaviour patterns established in their formative years.

So, if they can be brought to see that even small changes in behaviour – e.g.  listening to a contrary view just 10 times out of every hundred is only 10% behavioural change – can lead to improved outcomes for them, then they may be incentivised to change.

But there needs to be another incentivising element present: fear. The law must be changed to prevent key decisions in organisations being made without due process. A combination of carrot – incentives to change behaviour, and stick – fear of an orange jump suit at worst, or severe censure at best, might do the trick.

But if we do not face up to these issues now there will be need for another Chilcot Inquiry in a few years time and the unconscious, or sometimes not so unconscious, thuggery which dominates some of our Boards, ExComs and Cabinets will continue unchallenged.

Want to talk leadership? Contact me through my LinkedIn profile or call me on +44 (0) 207 754 0335

Ciaran

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