Follow the Leader! How to Overcome the “Obey Me” Syndrome

Posted by Kristin Arnold on November 23, 2013

I have a baseball cap with the words “Obey Me” written across the top. It’s part of a team activity in which the participants may choose to follow the instructions on various hats placed on team member’s heads.

Invariably, everyone follows the leader with the “Obey Me” hat — whether the “leader” wants them to or not.

shutterstock_277372325This tendency to defer to the leader weakens the team’s work. The team is missing out on worthwhile contributions. Decisions are essentially “done deals.” No one feels particularly satisfied with the end result. Try these techniques to overcome the “obey me” syndrome:

Go Around. When asking for input, go around the table and make sure everyone’s opinions are heard.

Write It Down. Some people like to think about the topic before they answer, so let them write their thoughts on a piece of paper and then share them.

Comment Anonymously. Ask the team to write their thoughts on stickie notes — one idea per stickie. Then have the team members randomly post the notes on a flipchart. Stand back and see what ideas emerge.

Write It Up. As each team member offers an opinion, record what they say on a flipchart for all to see. Make sure you use their words, rather than project your interpretation.

Go Last. Offer your opinion after everyone else has had the opportunity to speak. Integrate your comments with others.

Go First. Before the discussion begins, let people know you want frank discussion. Make it OK for the team to challenge your assumptions and point of view.

Aim for Unanimity. If you want to avoid the “dashboard dog effect” — heads bobbing up and down in apparent agreement with you — strive for unanimity where everyone must agree on the result. Don’t settle for compromises or half-hearted agreements.

Leave. If you think your presence is keeping the team from speaking up, leave the room and give the team the freedom to discuss the issues.


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