Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Encourage Pushback

As a leader, do you encourage ‘pushback’ from your staff? 

Deference to authority is deeply engrained in most of us. As a leader you need to resist this tendency in your staff. If people automatically defer to your judgment, you may miss out on valuable thinking and critical feedback. Try to make it easy for people to speak up, and remember to actively ask for their opinions. When talking about current or future work, give some initial thoughts, but then ask for help fleshing out ideas. Recognize people who speak up and thank those who challenge your thinking. Most importantly, try not to react immediately if you start to feel threatened, or you risk shutting down
the discussion.  This takes courage and confidence but if you want great results and you want to build capacity in your staff, this becomes an essential part of your leadership toolkit.

Adapted from "The Dangers of Deference" by Ron Ashkenas.


  1. What a terrific quality! I'm not sure it is always valued in society. Many people have been taught, in schools and through their families, that deference is expected and required. In addition, I would suggest that people may think divergently; however, they fear sharing their ideas with "superiors" because it may limit their opportunities for advancement. This also speaks to the need for excellent communication skills. If I can express myself clearly, with conviction, while acknowledging what is already valed, I have a much greater chance to be persuasive and credible.

  2. Agree it may not be trusted at many levels in education. We will know it is valued when a systematic method of providing 'feed-forward' becomes as natural in education as it is in business and even the military. It should not need to be a 'courageous conversation' or even a 'difficult conversation', but how we operate..

    Colin Powell once said, 'When your soldiers stop coming to you to complain is when you step down as their leader.'