Building HPTs Rule #4: No Boundaries Based on Position

A woman dies. As she encounters Saint Peter at the pearly gates she says,

“St. Peter, it is good to see you, but how did I get here?”

“Welcome Dr. Fluesham, your position as the Head of Emergency at Flipsum Memorial Hospital is what got you here.”

“Please, call me Lucy, but I thought I would have to at least make Chief Medical Officer at the hospital in order to be guaranteed a spot in heaven.”

Saint Peter gave a warm chuckle, and said,

“Perhaps I should explain further. As the result of a horrible car crash, you sustained traumatic brain injury, and were rendered unconscious. The EMTs transported you to Flipsum Memorial. Dr. Headstrom was on call, and determined you needed a decompressive craniectomy in order to get your ICP below target levels, and save your life.”

After receiving this information, Lucy became agitated, surprised and indignant, exclaiming,

“This makes no sense! Flipsum Memorial is best in class when it comes to brain trauma. I should know. I am—or should I say was—head of ER. Did the EMTs screw up transporting me? Did Dr. Headstrom botch the craniectomy?”

“No, my dear. The EMTs immediately recognized the potential for brain edema due to raised intracranial pressure. They knew that Flipsum Memorial specialized in brain injury and the Dr. Headstrom, the best of the best, was on call. They called ahead to make sure Dr. Headstrom knew you were on the way. The ER was prepped and ready, and you were transported in plenty of time to be saved. Dr. Headstrom performed brilliantly, quickly determining that IV fluids and oxygen infusion would not suffice to reduce the brain swelling. Anticipating the possible need for a decompressive craniectomy, he arranged to have an Operating Room prepped before your arrival.”

“It was at this point that your position brought you to heaven. Because decompressive craniectomies are a last resort, and very expensive, you issued a directive last week indicating that none shall be performed without your approval. If only you weren’t unconscious.”

As far-fetched as this little parable may seem, leaders frequently allow boundaries based on position to govern the performance of their team.

Rule #4 for building a high-performing team is that there are NO boundaries based on position. If your subordinate believes you are about to make a bad decision, or believes a better course of action is in order, you want them to speak freely. If there is not time to discuss it with you, and she is the expert, she should make the call.

The perception that hierarchy and position are in place to ensure proper decision-making is a throwback to the industrial age. Hierarchy and position are in place to provide direction and adequate resources. One of the most hierarchical organizations in the world, the United States military figured this out a while ago. Generals describe strategic objectives, and highly trained soldiers on the field determine the best course of action to accomplish the mission. Few would argue that there is a better example of high-performing teams than the U.S. military.

In today’s highly competitive, fast-paced and complex world, the person doing the job must be more expert at the job than anyone, including his boss. Even if his boss had the job first things change fast enough that his domain expertise quickly becomes dated. With HPTs, knowledge, training and perspective are what matter most—not position.

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