Good leaders should listen, take into account input of stakeholders


Workers holding a discussion during a meeting. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In my own experience, the defining feature of leadership failure is the refusal to take into account stakeholder’s perspectives and needs.

Yet the destruction caused by closed ears is rarely assigned quickly to the leaders responsible. Most often, the failures keep coming, until, finally, eyes turn to the leadership involved.

A case in point, last year, was working in a team led by a business manager greedy for margin, who inserted a new project manager with no experience in the industry or of the work underway to recast the project budgets in his favour.

The journey from there was chaotic, as someone who had never organised the creation of multiple types of content swept aside normal liaison between the creatives involved and all norms of content development with the client.

Two weeks of battling to retain a process that could work saw the ‘problem’ cast as ‘Jenny trying to get more work’, and culminated in a call where the leader said the budget had been cut by the client by 272 percent, so we had to cut our input or drop the contract.

Later, when the new project manager rashly developed the resource budgets on an existing shared document, it turned out that while my content creation budget, which had long been set at 50 percent, had, indeed, been cut by 272 percent in a clever way to increase the business margin to over 80 percent and not the best interests of the project.

However, by the 272 percent meeting, I was tired of arguing logic about what was needed for client success. That leader just wanted (my) costs cut. So, I proposed we did exactly that by abandoning all the scheduled (and time-consuming) co-creation processes — of concept, outline and text draft — and going straight to a ‘high-risk’ designed first draft, for amendments.

The leader jumped on the savings, we did it, and it was a disaster. Most assuredly, that leader has a fistful of blames for everyone. Yet it was always obvious, and stated, that we needed to undertake the development stages for client satisfaction.

Sadly, such blinkers around a leader’s own needs are not such a rare feature. In essence, compromise is a learned, front-of-lobe brain activity and doesn’t occur in situations of panic or fear.

Thus, I see leaders berate and override the stupid media, the stupid public, stupid farmers, ‘unreasonable’ suppliers, experts, consumers, clients, or whoever, unable to reach any understanding of these bodies’ needs or perspectives. Anyone who tries to lay out those needs is then ‘the problem’ and promptly sidelined.

However, the one thing that never goes away is the real needs of the stakeholders that leaders face, and the reasons for them. They cannot be overruled successfully.

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