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Membership Has its Privileges - And Limits

How can you go from cutting up with your buddies after work on Wednesday to cutting off debate on Friday?

Yes, participation inspires motivation. But who should participate in what? And for how long? One of the toughest calls for a new leader is deciding when enough participation is enough. Those calls are especially tough for leaders who've risen through the ranks. How can you go from cutting up with your buddies after work on Wednesday to cutting off debate on Friday?

It's easier than you think, says Morton International's Todd Conger. After his promotion, Conger's eleven-person team included four close friends. At first he didn't know how to relate. "I felt like I had to be their leader, but I still wanted to be part of the team," he says. "I wanted to be viewed as an equal, but I was afraid I was seen as a superior." After a few awkward weeks — and less direction than he should have been imposing — Conger raised the issue with his team, which told him he had blown it out of proportion. "Maybe I was just paranoid," he says, "but talking it through helped calm my fears."

Brian Ascher faced a different challenge. His first major task was to determine what features the new version of Quicken for Windows would include. "Intuit is a very consensus-driven place," Ascher explains. "We spent six or seven weeks debating. But finally I said, 'We've got to finalize a decision. We've got to start coding.' It's difficult to determine where that boundary is. You have to sense when people have had enough and want to move ahead."

Ultimately, making a decision meant imposing order. Ascher funneled the brainstorming of 50 people through a smaller group of 5 managers, all quite senior, who ranked everyone's suggestions in priority order. "We had to get high-level involvement to break the ties," he says. "We needed to cut through the roadblock we had created, agree on some priorities, and go."

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A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.