Why my leadership team doesn’t make decisions

The Last Word

John Swallow took the helm of Carthage College as president in 2017. He has brought his philosophy of empowering employees, and not his leadership team, to make decisions.

John Swallow
Credit: Lila Aryan Photography

“As a new president, I reserve judgment on a great many subjects until I know enough. But I am clear about one thing: my leadership team does not make decisions. There are two reasons why.

“First: at every institution where I’ve served in a leadership capacity, too many issues come to the leadership table for decisions, wasting a great deal of a great many people’s time at the top of the organization. The executive staff is rarely the correct group to weigh in on most issues because as issues bubble up, they move further and further away from those who have the most expertise. Individuals on the local level are in the best position to make decisions, and they are disempowered when they are kept away from the process.

“Second: bringing many issues to the team reinforces a powerful but false assumption that the members debate issues from various points of view, which are represented by ‘voices at the table.’ Executive team members, people assume, present their deeply-held, narrow views and somehow the group takes a vote, after the debate is held, and every voice is equal on every issue. This advocacy model is wrong for nearly all decisions because every member of the executive team should be charged to think institutionally, and not simply from a professional perspective.

“If a leadership team is not primarily a decision-making body, what, then, is it? It is a community, the members of which take collective ownership of the good of the organization. For this to work, the leadership team must function as a team. Therein is the paradox. My team is strong because it does not make decisions.”


Carthage College

2001 Alford Park Drive, Kenosha

Industry: Higher education

Employees: 685

carthage.edu

John Swallow took the helm of Carthage College as president in 2017. He has brought his philosophy of empowering employees, and not his leadership team, to make decisions.

John Swallow
Credit: Lila Aryan Photography

“As a new president, I reserve judgment on a great many subjects until I know enough. But I am clear about one thing: my leadership team does not make decisions. There are two reasons why.

“First: at every institution where I’ve served in a leadership capacity, too many issues come to the leadership table for decisions, wasting a great deal of a great many people’s time at the top of the organization. The executive staff is rarely the correct group to weigh in on most issues because as issues bubble up, they move further and further away from those who have the most expertise. Individuals on the local level are in the best position to make decisions, and they are disempowered when they are kept away from the process.

“Second: bringing many issues to the team reinforces a powerful but false assumption that the members debate issues from various points of view, which are represented by ‘voices at the table.’ Executive team members, people assume, present their deeply-held, narrow views and somehow the group takes a vote, after the debate is held, and every voice is equal on every issue. This advocacy model is wrong for nearly all decisions because every member of the executive team should be charged to think institutionally, and not simply from a professional perspective.

“If a leadership team is not primarily a decision-making body, what, then, is it? It is a community, the members of which take collective ownership of the good of the organization. For this to work, the leadership team must function as a team. Therein is the paradox. My team is strong because it does not make decisions.”


Carthage College

2001 Alford Park Drive, Kenosha

Industry: Higher education

Employees: 685

carthage.edu

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