Thinking Out Loud

The Leader

Jonah runs a non-profit, community development organization. He is very enthusiastic about his job, likes the people he works with, and is motivated to bring the organization to a higher level. His management team consists of an assistant director, administrative assistant, finance person, research director, outreach director, and development director. They are a congenial group, support each other, and have respect for Jonah.

Jonah’s management style is laid back. He wants his team members to exercise their individual autonomy, not be afraid to make decisions, and discuss problems openly with one another. Team members acknowledge that Jonah has a lot of experience and much to offer them. They want to draw on that, hoping Jonah will give more direction and be more readily available for brainstorming when they really need to think out loud.

For a long while, Jonah saw that as coddling and was concerned he would communicate a lack of confidence if he was too involved. He often held back in meetings when team members were looking for direction, wanting them to trust their instincts and not be afraid to make decisions.

Jonah was unaware that his philosophy was having a negative impact. Team members were beginning to see him as aloof, perhaps setting them up for failure, and unwilling to take responsibility as director of the organization.

When I gave this feedback to Jonah, he was not only surprised, but hurt. He had been in jobs where he craved more autonomy and decision making authority, so his staff’s reaction was puzzling. Why would they want to check in with him so frequently? Why wouldn’t they feel empowered by his approach? Did they really want him looking over their shoulders all the time?

As we looked into these questions more thoroughly, Jonah discovered that each team member needed something a little different, depending on experience, age, skill set, and temperament. He needed to be more flexible. His theory of management was fine, except that it was based on his history and philosophy, not the needs of his team.

With a communication style grounded in the intrapersonal, Jonah’s internal processing and autonomy differed from four of his team members, who leaned more toward the interpersonal—needing a higher degree of collaboration and needing to think out loud. Being more flexible and checking in with individuals about their needs and progress became more natural for Jonah. He still encouraged autonomy and supported team members to make decisions (when appropriate) on their own. In fact, as he became more involved, team members became increasingly comfortable making decisions with greater autonomy.

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