Why Leadership?

by Krishna on June 17, 2008

The powers-that-be of the cricketing world have finally come to their senses and decided to allow players to challenge an umpire’s decision. The umpire can now use slow motion replays, microphones and other technology to make a more accurate decision. For those unfamiliar with cricket, this is the culmination of events that were set forth after a match between India and Australia marred by some egregious umpiring decisions threatened to snowball into a diplomatic crisis.

For the spectator, a decision like this is a no-brainer. You don’t want your team to lose because of an incorrect decision, nor would you be thrilled when they win only because the umpire helped them. Yet, the decision makers kept finding all kinds of reasons to avoid using technology: “Officials must be respected!“, “Technology is not infallible!“, “Bad decisions are part of the game!“, and so on

In the general context of organizational behavior, this is not very surprising. Organizations tend to do nothing until their hand is forced by a crisis. But this kind of behavior does reveal some patterns why organization behave so. Small mistakes are easily forgotten, especially when they make little difference to the final outcome (for example, most games are not affected by bad decisions by officials). People also like to move on, instead of dwelling on mistakes. People who are negatively affected have little decision making power. This is true for every consumer, and in many cases, a monopoly prevents the consumer from taking his/her business elsewhere.

It is useful to pay attention to the small mistakes to prevent them from causing harm in the future. But that option can also be taken too far, where every mistake is caught and people taken to task. Such an environment breeds fear and prevents people from taking any risks. Another problem is that you may over-react to infrequent problems and cause more harm by trying to fix something best left alone.

The situation explains why leadership is so important. Without leadership, it is very easy to ignore problems or create new ones by being panicky. Leadership provides the right organizational setup, where people can take risks while continually evaluating their processes and decisions without creating a climate of fear and mistrust. Crisis prevention, not crisis management should be the guiding principle of good leadership.

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