Monday, 27 August 2018


Different organisational cultures view questioning (“challenging”) one’s boss in different ways.  In some, it’s just not the “done thing”.  In others, it’s welcomed.

The aviation and medical industries are great proponents of the “2 Challenge Rule”.  This rule sounds like its name: a co-worker or subordinate may ask their leader or manager why they’re doing something or if they’re aware that something’s going on.  If the person being asked doesn't answer or respond twice in a row, they can be “relieved”. 

This has proven particularly useful in situations where lives are at stake (e.g. operating rooms or on aircraft flight decks).  In these situations, the surgeon performing the operation or the captain of the aircraft may be so focussed on their perception of the situation that they may ignore or not be aware of other factors which may cause a greater problem. Where lives are literally at stake, it’s vital that people can speak up.

Allowing people to speak up is easier said than done.  It’s not easy for a leader to admit that they may be wrong, even if it means coming to a better decision in the end.  They may worry that their subordinates will lose faith in them (valid, in some cases).  

Equally, their subordinates, may fear retribution, even if they’re aware of other critical factors that will have escaped the boss’ notice.  Some cultures frown upon “juniors” challenging their seniors – it “just isn’t done”.

Everyone wants the team to reach the best decision if they’re a true team player.  It has also been demonstrated that group decisions tend to be better than individual ones (try the Lost at Seaexercise to prove this).

The exception to this may be where the leader is the “acknowledged expert” in a particular field and has more specialised knowledge than their subordinates.  Whilst an Airline Captain may have more flying hours than his First Officer, the latter will still have been through the same flight training and recertification processes as the Captain and is well-placed to challenge.  

Getting comfortable with being challenged (let alone encouraging it) isn't easy.  No wonder people find it hard to implement as a general practice.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.Challenge

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