Who’s In Charge Around Here?

Projects need leaders.

In order for any endeavor to be successful, someone has to be in charge of it. If you’re doing something by yourself, then it’s easy – it’s you. But what happens when you tackle something as a team?

This isn’t just for work-related projects, either. In literally any activity where 2 or more people have to work together, you’re wildly more likely to be successful if one person has final authority.

You can (and should!) invest that authority with whatever restrictions the team feels is necessary. The person in charge might have conditions under which they’re no longer in charge – like an election or something of that nature. But as long as they are in charge, they need to be the final deciding vote.

Because sometimes, you’re just going to have to break a tie. Sometimes the normal collaboration process is just going to take so long that you need a decision within a particular window and you can’t get it otherwise. Even Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak hired a third guy when they were first starting out for exactly that reason – you need a tie-breaking vote sometimes in order to get things done.

Of course, Ronald Wayne wasn’t their leader – so you can create a structure for decision-making that doesn’t necessarily require one ultimate person making every decision. But what you do need, is that kind of structure. A setup that tells you exactly who the final decider is under every circumstance.

If you get four people together and say “We’re going to build a house together,” you can see the problem when one of them wants bay windows and another wants French doors. Especially if they’ve all already sunk money into the project and can’t easily walk away. That’s a lack of foresight, sure. But the easiest way to avoid the problem is to say “We’re going to build a house, and since Susan has the most experience with this, we’re all agreeing to defer to her in final decision-making if there’s a disagreement. If you don’t trust Susan’s ability to lead or her design expertise, don’t sign onto this project.”

Clearly defined leadership from the start is also much preferable to assumed leadership mid-project. If a team is assembled for a project at a company and no one is defined as the leader, it’s very likely that one person will assume that role. It’s also very likely that that person won’t be the ideal choice for it, because they’ll take the leadership position on strength of personality rather than on expertise. Other people might become bitter and the project will suffer. But if right from the start you say “Okay, I’m assigning you six to the new marketing initiative, and I’m putting Randy in charge,” then you can get any objections up front, clearly lay out expectations, and avoid as much power-jockeying as possible.

When you have the opportunity, assign a leader clearly. When you are one, take all responsibility. When you aren’t one, respect the person who is until it’s time to walk, but don’t straddle the fence. It’s the only way things get done.

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