In his recent blog post John wrote about a decision tree developed by Adam Kahane to help with that perennial question – “when should I collaborate and when not?” The framework gives us four options: leave, adapt, collaborate and force. This post is about the ‘force’ option.

In summary, Kahane’s framework gives us a way to determine our options. Where we can’t change a situation and can’t put up with it, our option is to leave. When we can put up with it our option is to do so, to adapt. If we can change a situation but only through working with others, we collaborate. Where we can change the situation unilaterally we force it.

In my experience clients often are freed up by the idea that there are times when they can just do it, act unilaterally and force it. I can understand their reaction, but want to point out the obvious dark side of the force. If this option becomes an excuse to maintain a command and control dynamic then this is risky territory for any leader.

Just like in the movies, the ‘Force’ can be used for good if done with the appropriate intention and mindset. If we define forcing quite broadly as describing those situations where I maintain decision-making rights, this allows me the decision-maker some room to work with others. I can seek feedback on my draft decision. I can get some ideas from them but then make the call myself. I can even sit with them and generate some new knowledge together. Or as I am making my decision I can simply explain to everyone where I’ve got to and why. In each case if I am applying the force option I will ultimately make a unilateral decision and everyone will have to put up with it. But because they have been on the journey to an extent, they are themselves likely to be more able to choose to live with it than leave.

So the force option is always there and when you have the power it is tempting to use it to its fullest extent. But beware the path that leads to the dark side. The smart leader knows that working with others always has value. With a collaborative mindset even the force option of unilateral decision-making can be a more inclusive one.

We all know we mustn’t underestimate the power of the dark side. My realisation is that we often underestimate the power of doing ‘with’ not ‘to’.

May the force of collaboration be with you.

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