Is Leadership Invitation always the correct approach? The answer is no
From DANIEL MEZICK
Agility runs on actionable feedback. In this essay we describe how to design decision systems for generating and then evaluating more feedback, using an invitational leadership approach.
1. Management structures are often optimized for “convenience of operation” or “management convenience”, rather than improved value delivery, sustainability, productivity, quality, etc. Structures can get out of alignment and impede these goals.
2. Delegation is very useful, but far less useful (or even ineffective) in situations that are complex, that display frequent change, and in situations that are forcing decisions in the face in ‘incomplete information’
3. Invitations from top decision makers generate 10X to 20X more feedback than delegations, and business agility runs on high-volume, high-quality feedback.
4. The invitation-vs-delegation debate is not “either-or” and actually displays a lot of nuance in terms of the trade-offs. Executive leadership teams need to understand this to be effective leading change in organizations.
5. More and more of work is displaying frequent change, suggesting the use of invitation and more agency. However, leading by delegating till makes sense when the work is a well understood “defined process” that is typically repetitive.
Delegate or Invite?
Management and executive leadership must be expert at delegation of responsibility and authority. Delegations can be rapidly designed and finalized. Delegation also reduces communication to the bare essentials and improves speed of response. But delegation also may discourage feedback. And that is a problem.
Complex situations force decisions and action in the face of ‘incomplete information.’ A chessboard, by contrast, displays ‘complete information‘. The board shows what is where, and all moves that are possible. Business scenarios are not like this. Business decisions are typically made under considerable uncertainty of information. This has become the norm.
In these situations, invitations can be used to determine the following:
1. Who is willing to engage in working on the problem
2. What the problem dimensions actually are
3. Who really cares? Who are the emerging leaders who want to address & solve the issue? Soliciting volunteers helps you find out.
4. Who is passionate about the solving the problem? Who is demonstrating a willingness to be responsible for contributing to the solution?
5. What is being missed in the assessment of the problem? More observers mean more perspectives and potentially, a clearer view of the situation
All of this feedback is actionable and therefore valuable.
Selecting the Right Option
When the business issue displays more and more complete information, like a chessboard, we may say the situation is more understandable, more knowable, and easier to make sense of. And address. But in situations where information is very far from complete, and decisions must be made, and actions taken, without complete information, under uncertainty, inviting volunteers to help is a primary way to successfully deal with change, make decisions and take action.
The main reason are as follows:
1. The ability to “make sense” of the situation, by pulling in more people to pay attention to it, and observe it
2. Much higher levels of employee engagement, as people actively choose to participate in problem solving
3. Space for creativity and innovation is created by opt-in invitation, in a way that delegation does not encourage
These days, there is considerable change. That means that in general, less and less is well understood. More and more complexity. That means gaining skills in leadership invitation is becoming a big deal.
When To Eliminate Leadership Invitation as an Option
When the task is well understood, and the information available is mostly complete, and the task is repetitive, delegation is clearly the way to go. And the inviting of volunteers is not necessary.
But when the information is incomplete, and the possible set of solutions is even less clear, soliciting volunteers and tapping into the collective intelligence of the entire group (via whole group process) is the way to go. And leadership invitation is a primary way to do that.
The debate about when to use delegation (a form of imposition) vs invitation is not an black-white, up-down, yes-no, “either-or” issue. Which approach is selected very much depends on the texture of the context, and the completeness of the information available for making decisions under uncertainty.
Dig Deeper: Actual Real World Examples
Watch and listen: 5 minute executive testimonial on experience shifting from Delegation to Invitation in a complex scenario:
Executive Testimonial:Invitation-Based Change at BENDIX Corporation (Executive Eddie Wilkinson)
Examine this PDF resource: Download the 1-pager from OLN contrasting Leadership Delegation with Leadership Invitation: Click here to download the 1-page PDF