So you’re the leader of a team that’s planning a new project. You kick off the meeting by laying out your plan and then saying, “So, I REALLY want to hear what you guys think. Pick apart what I’ve proposed.”

Did you just deploy the democratic managerial style, where a leader seeks input from others and attempts to build consensus?

No.

It may have seemed that way. After all, you asked your people to “pick apart” your plan. But there are two problems:

1. You’re still the boss. Many team members perceive challenging the boss as high risk, and they clam up. That’s exactly what you DON’T want during the planning stage of a project.

2. It’s still your plan. When you think through a plan in isolation, you unconsciously commit to it. Your mind is less open to other people’s ideas and you risk ending up with a plan that no one but you buys in to — their enthusiastic “support” notwithstanding.

Despite the “pick it apart” reference, the style you actually deployed is much closer to the command-and-control style, which often results in a failed plan.

The democratic managerial style is perfect for planning — if it’s executed properly. A leader who’s comfortable deploying it will begin a meeting my saying, “Big picture, here’s what we need to accomplish as a team. Now, I’d like to hear all your thoughts about how we’re going to get there.” In other words, you keep your opinions to yourself until people have had their say.

When used effectively, the democratic style signals to a team that all opinions are valued, decreases the likelihood that important items will be overlooked, and vastly increases buy-in because the people executing the plan feel they “own” it. Give it a try for your next planning meeting.

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