Put yourself in this situation. As the volunteer President of a non-profit organization, one of your main roles is to chair the board meetings, making sure business is conducted in a professional manner as all items on the agenda are addressed. An important guest has joined the meeting to present to the board. The guest has finished making their presentation and they are taking questions from board members. One of the board members starts a discussion a little bit off topic. You feel the meeting going off track, but you think you know where this discussion is going and decide to let it go on for a bit. The Executive Director jumps in quickly and says: “Perhaps this is a discussion better had after our guest leaves?” She suggests that we see if there are any more questions for our guest and that we table the new matter for later.
What do you do? Your authority as President has just been challenged by the Executive Director in public! Imagine this situation on your own work team. The General Manager has just been “upstaged” by one of their subordinates in front of the whole team and an important visitor as well!
In this case, the Executive Director made a good suggestion that you can support. But what if she had done the opposite and upstaged you with a suggestion you could not support? What are the principles at work here?
Whether the point made by the subordinate was appropriate, we need to stay calm and controlled and not get uptight about having our “authority challenged”. How we react – and how people perceive our reaction – is important. We don’t want to embarrass the person or ourselves in any way. Only if their intention was to embarrass or disrespect someone do we need to “put them in their place”. Our goal is to run team meetings where people feel comfortable sharing what’s on their minds. This is a make-or-break moment when people will see what happens when they take initiative.
In this case, the Executive Director briefly took control of the meeting agenda, trusting that the President would treat her with respect and trusting her own judgment about what needed to happen. Since the President supported her suggestion, the right thing for him to do was calmly thank her for it and openly endorse it. “Great suggestion, Mary. Is everyone ok if we table this for later?”
But what if she had suggested something with which the President disagreed? For example, what if she suggested that questions be cut off immediately when the President could see there were more questions coming and time available. The President needs to be just as calm and positive while also dealing with the situation: “Thanks for that suggestion, Mary. I agree that we want to keep things moving. Let’s just check to see if there are any more questions for our guest before we move on.”
To summarize: if a member of your team takes a risk and shows initiative, we need to do everything we can to encourage them to keep doing that. This often means getting over ourselves and checking our ego at the door.