This is a simple idea that seems to evade even the most competent people, especially as people move up through the ranks. It’s the idea that your superior ability or intellect gives you the superpower of being able to deceive without detection.
“If you think no one on your staff will pick up on the fact that you are misleading them, either by commission or omission, you need to reconsider your strategy.”
What does it say about you if you’ve assembled a team that is not bright enough to pick up on being misled? What will happen when they figure out that you’ve been less than honest? Will it ever be possible to regain their trust after you are caught in misdirection?
I’m not advocating spewing every little bit of confidential information to your staff. That would be very poor judgement and even poorer management. When faced with delivering bad news – news that you may not know the details or may not be able to share the details about due to confidentiality, you have to find a balance between misleading and having the integrity to treat your staff with respect.
If you’ve treated your staff respectfully along the way, truly behaved as a servant leader, made sure to listen and act upon feedback, you might be surprised just how your staff will be to go though the most difficult times at your side. It’s the fact that you are a respectable, empathetic, approaching, kind leader that makes it possible to deliver very bad news and still have the support of your team. Trust me.
People like to hear reality, and your staff is looking to you to provide them with the possible opportunities for success even if that means they need to find that success in another organization or in another capacity.
Anecdote #1 – Years ago I worked at an organization that was ultimately acquired by a larger organization that produced the exact same software that we did. Now, you can imagine the feeling in the department: that soon we’d be merged and as a result, we’d all lose our jobs. So I approached my manager and asked him whether we had anything to fear or whether he could share any details about the impact of this merger to our department.
“No no”, he said, “everything will be great. We’ll merge the teams and we’ll merge the products and have an even better offering to the market.
So I pressed him again – do I need to maybe update my resume and keep an eye out for a job, just in case?
“No No No”, he reassured again, “Just sit tight. All will be well and we’ll be in a better place soon.”
A month later, we were all called into a “kickoff meeting”. HR walked in and laid us all off.
I approached my manager and asked him why he could not even give me some idea that there was a chance we’d be let go. In fact, it was pretty obvious to everyone (see my note about having a smart staff) that we likely would be let go, but his reassurances made us trust that we’d be okay.
His response was that he was just doing his job.
If the opportunity arises, would I ever work for him again? Nope. Did he poison me to this organization? Yep.
So what was he supposed to do? Was he supposed to tell us that we’re all losing our jobs? Of course not. Well, He could have suggested that the future was uncertain, but that the worst that would have happened would be we’d be paid a severance based on tenure. He could have reinforced that it’s always good to keep your resume updated. He could have done something other than tell us everything would be fine, which was a lie.
Anecdote #2 – A number of years ago I was pursuing my MBA at the University of Central Florida (go Knights!) One of my business classes posed a thought question. Here’s the short version:
“You manage a Wal-Mart that will be closing in 6 months. Another larger store will be opening in the next town, but none of your staff will be moved to that other store. You need your staff to keep working until the smaller store closes, and then they will all be released. Do you:
- Say nothing, and on the day of the closing simply arrive early and lock the doors?
- Tell your staff the situation, and work with staff on job placement opportunities and/or lobby regional management for some “stay on board” compensation?
My leaning would be, as you might expect, #2. I asked my then boss and he said “most definitely #1. In his words “this is a business and there are no friends in business”. Ironically, a few years later he was laid off.
To me, a good leader is someone who represents the best in humanity; someone who, when you run into them long since you’ve parted ways, you want to walk up to them and shake her/his hand. Party of being that boss is to treat your staff with integrity and above all, don’t bullshit them.
Next: Part 5 – How to Interview