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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Your Employees Need Non-Authoritarian Focus and Direction

By Shel Horowitz

"Imagine a symphony orchestra where the conductor says, go out and just play, don’t rehearse. What would happen if the football quarterback said, who wants to go out with the pass, who wants to run with the ball? The offensive coordinator writes the game plan for everybody. A pro football team may use 100 plays, 11 people. Do you think any given player is going to understand the role of eleven people in 100 plays? The same holds true in business."

The speaker is Paul Alves of Family Business Center sponsor Giombetti Associates, presenting with his partner Rick Giombetti. The two are known through their many presentations to the center as advocates of a collaborative, non-authoritarian management style.

But that collegiality, they make clear, doesn't take away the need to steer the enterprise.

Old-school authority, they note, is the power to influence based on an authoritarian persona. And that has a negative perception. More modern, forward-thinking executives gain their authority through a structure that fosters participation and collaboration. But they need to walk the line between being too controlling and failing to give adequate direction.

"We must transition to collaborative, communicative leadership. If you just tell them, or expect them to do [a task], you’re going to be disappointed," said Giombetti. To demonstrate their point, Giombetti and Alves passed out sheets of paper with numbers in a seemingly random order, and told us to circle the numbers in order, starting with 1, in a timed one-minute test. Then they passed out the same exercise again, but this time told us that there as an order that repeated form quadrant to quadrant, so that once you found one number, you knew which part of the page to look for the next number.

Many participants doubled and some tripled their scores, just by knowing where to look—even though the time was reduced from 60 to 45 seconds. Giombetti commented, "What is the number one answer as to why senior managers and executives use old school authority? 'It’s faster.' But how long did it take me to give you the focus, structure and direction?"

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