How many people can a manager out-vote?

This is a trap I often fall into and I’m always embarrassed when I do.

Sometimes someone presents a point of view to me and I listen but disagree.  Then later someone else says the same thing and I listen a bit more.  Finally a third person says it and I change my mind.  Terrible to admit it but what I’ve done in this situation is decide that I carry two votes and so it takes three people to out-vote me.  When really my decision making should have nothing to do with the number of people who tell me.

One important attribute that sets apart real leaders is their willingness to switch track when presented with the ‘right’ idea, no matter how much they have invested in the current track.  This is what makes an agile leader and in turn an agile organisation.

But for some managers, quite unknowingly, their ego is simply too big to change after a suggestion from just one person.  Or maybe they are just worried that they will be seen as flighty if they change quickly.  Whatever the reason, these are the people who need to validate the change by ensuring there is sufficient weight behind it.  There are even some managers who assign varying levels of votes to different people.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that we should drop everything we are doing the moment someone shows us a better way.  Some things are like oil tankers and take a long time to turn around.  But what we should do is clearly acknowledge that our view has changed and, most critically, start to plan from the new viewpoint.

Hopefully I’ll learn to get better at spotting when I’m counting votes instead of listening to the arguments.

4 thoughts on “How many people can a manager out-vote?”

  1. Whilst I fully agree with the concept that managers shouldn’t be set in their ways, sometimes it is necessary to consider they come to a problem with different experiences and viewpoints, especially with smaller teams where the manager has responsibility over non-technical goals too. The problem with the concept of allowing a group of employees to override a manager is that certain employees are more susceptible to agreeing with others and it creates a distorted picture. Similarly, it is possible to shape the answer to a question by context or phrasing it in a particular way. Of course you should question your theory if people keep telling you that it is wrong, but you need to be careful not to encourage an (employees) vs (manager) culture.

    Also, going back to the general management override, it is important to consider that whilst there may be many perfectly good ways to get to the solution, it may not be possible to mix and match these during the way. This may sometimes lead to some hostility as a manager needs to make a decision against a perfectly good idea, but which is not suitable at that particular point in time. Similarly, employees should not consider a decision not to take their suggestion forward as dismissing their idea or it being wrong–There should be nothing negative about it. If they feel this, they are more likely to try and get others to support them to get their way.

    I think my point is simply “don’t quantify” the “votes”.

  2. On the first point I think we are both saying the same thing, almost. Yes we don’t want to let a sufficient number of employees override a manager, because the whole point is that it should be about the issue discussed and the arguments made, whoever makes it. Where I might disagree is the implicit view that experience carries more votes. To me, experience has to be demonstrated by showing how it applies to the current situation for it to count.

    On the second point, I agree and I think I covered that in my post. What matters more than anything is to explain things to all concerned and recognise that others might not agree. In most cases this recognition is more important to people than having a manager follow their suggestion.

  3. Don’t you find that when a manager is off (on another holiday abroad), the remaining team leaders work better in a co-operative state where decisions are being taken on merit?

    Democracy or Dictatorship? discuss…

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