How to avoid a Leadership Echo-chamber
The term “echo-chamber” is often applied to today’s news and social media.
The concept is an environment in which an individual only encounters beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that existing views are reinforced, and alternative ideas are not considered.
And it’s also something that occurs regularly in all organisations.
Good governance processes should always be in place to prevent groupthink, but the reality is that when I work with many enterprises, there can often be a real lack of diverse thinking in senior teams.
It’s only natural.
In many smaller organisations, where the founding team and/or a small group of leaders are steering the ship (often without the structure of a formal board) this is more likely to occur.
It’s not uncommon for there to be little or no change in the senior team within small entrepreneurial and family-run businesses over a period of decades.
Next time you are sat with your leadership team – look around.
How long has everyone been in their role? How diverse is the age/gender/ethnicity, etc of your senior team?
I’m not saying here that you must appoint different people; it’s just a reality check.
It’s somewhat inevitable that in many small organisations there will be less diversity in backgrounds as it’s a reflection of things like the founding team, family, local talent pool, etc.
But that shouldn’t mean less diverse thinking.
Bob Garratt, in his book The Fish Rots From The Head, writes about the need for Directors to be continuously scanning the “changing external political, trade and social environments, through travel, consulting, personal coaching and mentoring of top people”.
Increasing the diversity of your thinking when it comes to strategic planning and key decisions is essential.
There are many practical ways that you can do this without replacing people at the top:
- Encourage your leaders to serve on a Trustee board; working with other trustees is an excellent way to develop more diverse thinking. Check out Reach Volunteering or LinkedIn for trustee roles in your area.
- Consciously network more widely than your own current sector or social circle. Think about attending a conference looking at future trends and wider issues beyond your business, such as environmental impact.
- Look at joining a Peer Network where you can draw on external viewpoints and ideas to solve specific challenges.
- Use specialists to facilitate strategy development sessions, since they can create a space for more creative thinking.
- Hire external coaches or mentors to work with the senior team.
- Consider volunteering as a mentor to entrepreneurs or individuals (there are many non-profit organisations looking for mentors).
This is not an exhaustive list and some of these ideas require no investment other than time.
All these ideas are either about bringing in different viewpoints from the outside or seeking to develop your own thinking through exposure to new environments.
Having to provide governance, advice and support to people and organisations that are different to your own and, importantly, where you no longer have established authority, can be a great learning experience.