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As a designated leader who has gotten the respect of those I lead - here's a problem I've had before. When working on project is where there are other potential leaders with strong opinions, I've the problem that others challenge my authority as a leader by being critical of solutions without offering better alternatives.

How do I derail this negative, critical behavior to lead a more collaborative, solution-focused team?

  • 3
    I like this question but I see a disconnect with the title. "How to enforce leadership" gives out a message of control freakery, which the content of your question shows is the opposite of your intention. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Apr 10 '12 at 21:24
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What your asking about isn't leadership. It's more about how teams can collaboratively work best together. When I lead projects where this happens, I ask for alternatives, and encourage the debate, while reminding people of the practical limits (e.g. we can't debate forever - we have to deliver something at some point). As the lead, you have to make the final decision, but not alienate people or put them down.

I think another, really critical thing that people often forget to do, is follow up after decisions are made. Someone might have had a great idea that didn't get implemented, or an idea that maybe wasn't so good and was never considered - both of those are absolutely okay. If you follow up with the people who put the most energy into the debate (whether or not their ideas were followed), you'll find that they generally care the most about trying to solve problems. If you keep inviting those people back (even if their ideas maybe aren't the greatest), you'll get a much more diverse point of view on new problems in the future, which is way more valuable to creative thinking in an organization than picking the "winning" and "losing" ideas.

You might wonder, "Well what about the people that put little or no energy into the process?" I wouldn't worry about that either. Just make sure they know that they're welcome to speak up, and they will when they want and need to.

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    +1 for it not being about leadership. It's about getting stuff done, making it about leadership feels like you're trying to take credit for their ability to work together. You're all a team. – Rarity Apr 10 '12 at 21:51
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Some of the best leadership experts state that leadership is not about power, it's about service.

I can't answer this directly because I feel that the premise is wrong. I have no reason to believe their behavior should be unwanted. Maybe they are just trying to help, albeit inappropriately? Maybe the solution is wrong?

Here are some tips:

  • If the problem is that team discussions about decisions being made are unproductive due to criticism, start asking questions.

  • Jim Collins, author of Great by Choice and Good to Great, advises to increase your question-to-statement ratio; Try asking questions twice as often as you make statements. What are the facts? Why have we concluded that this decision is best? This will help you and your team understand the decisions.

  • If you are a good leader, then having other "leader types" should be a benefit, not a problem. Maybe they are just a curmudgeon and you are putting it politely. However it is, you should be sure you are correctly diagnosing the problem.

  • Leadership is about having power but seldom using it. You shouldn't need to put them in their place. They are your team — you should figure out how to build them up.

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This is a tough one.

I was once a project lead developing a product. We had difficulties with a new member of staff coming on board in accepting that ultimately I was responsible for the decisions on the product.

I feel this is an applicable scenario here - I needed to assert leadership to prevent the project from collapsing, but I also needed to focus his technical skills. The employee in question was highly talented, but unfortunately his actions were disrupting to the team.

Here's what we tried. Not all of them may be relevant to you, unfortunately:

  • Establishing a review/complete pattern. Previously, we'd allowed this employee to notify us when tasks were done and how they met requirements - however, we subtly altered our approach for this employee, asking him to let us know when he'd finished and then talking through where we were at and whether the results met our objectives.
  • In conjunction to this, we ensured the employee had a chance to be at our direction meetings and understand our requirements.
  • We also had a meeting with the employee, to explain that their talent was a positive thing, but that we had business needs which came first. We also established that the above meetings would take place in this chat, to ensure the employee felt they were still seeing and could comment on the wider picture.
  • We upped our positive feedback.

In short, what we did was to set out to establish a slightly more rigorous/formal management chain than was previously in place. Partly, this was self-defence; the employee was altering things against our instructions because they felt I'd make the wrong call and we needed to ensure we reviewed these. However, on the other side, we tried to increase the impression that the employee had a say in decision-making, or at the very least an understanding of why decisions were made a certain way. We also tried to positively feed back on jobs well done, to show that as a whole hierarchy we were well aware of the employees abilities.

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