by Steve Adubato, PhD
As leaders, we are often guilty of acting in a rash and hasty fashion. We make snap decisions on the spot based on frustration, confusion and fear.
Consider the case of a small business that was facing significant challenges in its sales and development operation. The demands on the organization were becoming greater in terms of its need to bring in more revenue and to take advantage of market opportunities and trends. Yet, the existing sales and development staff just wasn’t getting the job done. The CEO was getting increasingly frustrated, often lashing out and playing the “blame game” in his communication. He would say things like, “Why is it taking so long to get a meeting with Jim Smith? I asked for it a week ago. What’s wrong with you guys?” Or, “You’ve got to be kidding me. How could it be that we didn’t follow up? You made all of us look bad. Don’t you even care?” Very counterproductive communication.
As this pattern continued, the CEO felt compelled to act. In fact, he put so much pressure on one experienced sales manager, that he literally forced her to offer her resignation. In that moment, the CEO was convinced that he had solved part of the problem and thought; “Okay. Jane is leaving. Maybe we can get on the right track.” But his inner voice really knew that Jane wasn’t the issue. He started interviewing new people and it was then that one of his top vice presidents went to him and said, “Sam, I’ve been thinking. I’m not convinced that Jane leaving is the answer. She is smart and has institutional knowledge and frankly, this isn’t all her fault. ALL of us need to look at the situation and see how we could work more strategically.”
The CEO listened as his VP laid out a plan to reconfigure the sales and development team that proposed having Jane focus on areas where she was strongest and redeploy another top manager to take some of Jane’s other responsibilities. Ironically, much of the issue with Jane did not come down to talent or ability, but rather her part-time work schedule and the fact that she was being pulled in so many different directions.
After a series of candid conversations (which included Jane), a new plan emerged that seemed less radical and took advantage of existing resources while asking other junior team members to step up and take more responsibility, leaving other senior managers able to pick up some of Jane’s workload.
There is a moral here that has everything to do with leadership and communication. Often, leaders get so frustrated that we can’t see the forest from the trees. We don’t see the options and the alternatives, but rather we look to the quick “solution” which often produces unnecessary organizational upheaval and a whole set of new problems that could have been avoided.
The other important communication lesson has to do with listening and creating an environment where employees can come to you and say; “Sam, I disagree with the direction you are going in and here’s why.” For leaders who haven’t built that degree of trust and an environment that promotes such open and candid communication, a heavy price is paid. That leader becomes isolated, hearing only his or her internal voices and not the more objective ones around him.
The unvarnished truth is that the CEO in this case is someone I know very well. In fact, “Sam” is actually me. This case is very real. The circumstances are as I’ve stated. And the leadership and communication lessons learned will stay with me for a long time. Hopefully they will resonate with the readers of this column.