Friday, January 18, 2013
Decision Weasels in Associations
I love this Dilbert cartoon. It's been sitting on my desktop for a few months now because it is such a good example of what I call "Decision Weasels." (I'll give a nod to Scott Adams and "The Way of the Weasel" which I am sure has inspired some of this post out of the depths of my memory.) I've met a few of them over my career. Decision weasels are usually in positions of power in our associations. Sometimes these individuals are executives or senior staff, sometimes chairs of boards, committees or chapters. If it were just the occasional individual that we had to watch out for, that would be bad enough. But sometimes decision weasels run in packs and can comprise the majority of the boards and committees.
The hallmark of the decision weasel is the uncanny ability to get credit for all of the stuff that goes right, and somehow escape any negative consequences when things go wrong. Worst of all, really good decision weasels are usually personable and they easily elicit trust from unwitting toadys and scapegoats alike. They project an air of confidence and authority, but somehow don't seem to be responsible for anything in particular. If you have noticed these things in your association, you might have a weasel in your midst.
Passive-aggressive weasels use collaboration as cover. In those situations, irrespective of the weasel's status as volunteer or a staff member, we need to be careful. Decision weasels often use flattery as a way to draw individuals into this dance. "What would you recommend?" is nice to hear because it makes us feel valued and important. What is more important is the response you get immediately after you offer your opinion.
If you are asked, "What would you recommend?", offer your opinion and get a response something along the lines of: "Thanks, I'll take that under advisement," you might be safe. Saying things like "taking this under advisement" or "I appreciate your input" is an indicator that the individual doing the asking really was looking for your opinion and will add it to their list of factors currently under consideration. They are still in the decision-drivers-seat-o-responsibility.
On the other hand, if you are asked, "What would you recommend?," offer your opinion and hear something akin to, "Sounds good, let's go with that," your weasel alarm should go off. Someone who is non-committal and subtly pushes the onus back on you - might be setting you up. Your best defense against a decision weasel is documentation. Weasels don't like it and vastly prefer the in person "pounce and withdraw" approach.
Obviously, its good for us to be collaborative, to seek out other opinions and engage in dialogue around potential benefits, outcomes and risks of a suggested course of action. However, at the end of the day the decision must be made and accountability must be assigned whether that decision is left up to an individual, a team or a vote. Even then, weasels excel at avoiding accountability. Weasels don't avoid decisions, that would be too obvious and the spoils involved are too tasty a treat to pass up. What they will do instead is make a decision but leave a trap door inside of it. The trap door is usually constructed in the guise of collaboration.
So watch out for those decision weasels and listen very carefully as decisions are being made and explained. Give input when requested but don't let the responsibility shift unless it's something you are happy to assume responsibility for. Last but not least, hold yourself accountable for your actions and establish a track record of honorable behavior. In this way, if you are set up you have a good chance of defending your actions and redirecting the discussion back to the weasel in question.
(Author's note: All apologies to real weasels for the unflattering way they are depicted in this blog post. We think weasels are actually pretty cute and adorable.)