Better to ask or command?

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Leaders should ask less and tell more. But is that right?

Sometimes it pays to go back to the vault for advice. NASA research on crisis management (published in 1985) suggests the command-and-control response may be wrong.

Two investigators at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, looked into aviation failures in the 1970s.

“When a captain centralizes authority in himself, he shuts out information that others are capable of contributing,” they wrote. “The pilots learned from experience that they were failing to recognize that others may contribute a valid and safe resolution.”

The British learned the same lesson from German U-boats. When British merchant ships were torpedoed during World War II, it was not the younger, fitter merchant mariners who survived. The older seamen were more likely to whip up a plan together—even as their ship sank.

Lesson: If pilots about to crash and merchant mariners on a sinking ship can find time to ask questions and agree on a survival plan, so can we.

— Adapted from Just Ask Leadership, Gary B. Cohen, McGraw-Hill.

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