Why won't it work?

Bruce MacEwen has a nice piece on leadership that takes off from the recent HBR article about Havard's Program for Leadership Development.  Vision, Decision (And Reservations).

What I keyed on what something he wrote near the end of the article around making decisions.  Not only do you need to articulate what to do and why, but you also need to articulate the reservations you have about the particular course of action.  What does that give you?

The reservations enlist genuine support, changing "We're going to do this so shut up and get on-board," to "We're going to do this so long as...."  It makes  your decisiveness and your vision realistic, in other words.

And, surprise, admitting things might not be perfect enlists support.  You're not omniscient, and claims to the contrary alienate rather than attract.  Decision; vision; reservations; speaking each individual's language.  Leadership.

I've been learning in my consulting practice that when I come across as "having the answer" I never get as far as I do when I offer a suggestion (that I think will work), and ask my clients why it won't work.  There are a variety of questions I could ask along these lines, but they all center around surfacing obstacles and unintended consequences of the idea.  And, conveniently, when I bring other people into the conversation, I usually get a better solution in the end.  Just as Bruce says above.

With your next brilliant plan ask yourself, and your colleagues.  Why won't this idea work?

5 Comment(s)

Early last year Shawn and I delivered a workshop on narrative techniques in Hong Kong for a group of Masters students who were engaged in projects for several clients of the university. About two-thirds of the way through the workshop... Read More

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In a brilliant and thought-provoking post, Jack Vinson of Knowledge Jolt from Jack writes:I've been learning in my consulting practice that when I come across as having the answer I never get as far as I do when I offer a suggestion (that I think will ... Read More


That's an elegant little technique; simple, clean, yet grounded in really good thinking.

Not that it matters (since it works), I'm curious about why it works. Seems to me, for several reasons:

1. As Bruce MacEwen pointed out in his post, honest admission of a lack of godliness is refreshingly unpretentious, and tends to bring people along with us;

2. Reciprocity--you ask their opinion, so they're inclined to listen to yours;

3. It appeals to the other person's desire to "play consultant" too and offer up critiques;

4. It shows you're not afraid to brook criticism for the sake of moving the ball forwards;

5. You are honestly soliciting their opinion (at least, I'm assuming you're sincere about it--if not, all bets are off);

6. You're refraining from the "hard sell" of pushing your ideas.

That's why I come up with, and I don't doubt it works on more levels yet. Very sensible suggestion, thanks.

» Clients Want the Answer From You - Maybe Not! from Legal Marketing Blog

Some might think that clients just want to know what the answer is, and not have their time wasted with a lot of verbiage dealing with the background and reasoning that goes into it. I think that is true….and false... Read More

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