What’s on your Mind? How to Avoid Leadership Groupthink

I Hate those Meetings…

I hate meetings where no one is really saying what’s on their mind. I have seen many just flat out stupid plans proposed by leaders receive unanimous support from other “leaders”. I have also seen those who actually shared what they were thinking about the plan receive the black sheep death stare or worse the ostracized death sentence. This is often times the result of a toxic organizational culture of groupthink that permeates many organizations today.

A Culture of Mind Control

The culture of group think comes from a lack of power balance (true empowerment) within an organization. When such an imbalance occurs, people who are power holders experience leading mostly in a world of all green lights from their people. They often face little or no resistance from others on their ideas, opinions, or decisions. This makes it extremely easy for those in power to begin to believe their own hype. The toxicity of groupthink does one of two things to group members; for one group of people it intoxicates (the aroma of life) and for another group of individuals it suffocates (the stench of death). Let me explain.

Groupthink Intoxication

    The intoxicated ones are those who are heavily influence by the power of those who are power holders. They desire acceptance from those individuals and fear rejection or a lack of acceptance from them because of the status or power they hold. Listen, power or status influence creates high degrees of admiration in such a way that the intoxicated ones fight to champion and preserve the thoughts and actions of those in power. When you are intoxicated, your thoughts are no longer your thoughts, but an extension of the thoughts of those in power. So not only do you support the bad ideas, you also oppose those who speak up against such ideas. Thus I have come to realize that intoxicated leaders or team members are actually saying what’s on their minds;  the problem is, what’s on their minds is usually whatever the person in power has (directly or indirectly) placed there.

Groupthink Suffocation

    The suffocated ones, on the other hand find themselves in an organizational twilight zone. They know they are seeing supposedly very smart people continue to make very stupid decisions. They feel trapped; not being able to say what they are really thinking because of the overwhelming backlash that usually comes from their questions, points of concern or opposing ideas. When toxicity levels reach a breaking point, the suffocated ones snap and act out of character. They can’t take it anymore and usually they just say whatever is on their mind, at this point however, it is said with no filters what so ever.  This lashing out or out of character response in the moment comes from built up emotions that can no longer be contained. Unfortunately, this type of behavior only reinforces groupthink by devaluing or eliminating those who think differently and justifying it due to their out of character behavior.

To avoid intoxicated and suffocated minds in an organization, leaders must become intentional about the following practices:

1. Create a culture of empowerment: 
True empowerment involves power holders actually giving some of their power to others, thus lessening their own direct influence and increasing the influence of others.

2.Create a culture of high level dialogue: 
Encourage and challenge people to come prepared to add something of value to the conversation. This helps team members focus on developing their own thoughts and ideas.

3. Ask open-ended questions: 
This prevents from directly or indirectly placing thoughts into the minds of those who are easily intoxicated by influential leaders. When no responses come, this tells you they are merely waiting to be told what to think. Don’t take the bait!

4. Use your independent thinkers as pulse checkers: 
When their frustration levels are increasing, it is probably because people in the room have stopped thinking (for themselves especially). Acknowledge their value and ask them if they think things are heading in the right direction.

When the culture isn’t toxic, organizational leaders will began to truly experience the value of saying to their team, “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

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