It used to be back when messages were written on scrolls, rolled up, sealed with hot wax, imprinted with a ring and delivered by someone in person who had no idea what the message said, the receiver (usually some high and mighty king type guy) would give the messenger a really good tip for good news and punish or even kill him if the news was bad. Certainly a risky way to make a living for the messenger.
Today the idea of killing someone for delivering bad news is as outdated as sealing scrolls with wax. And of course the Champion Performers who read these posts would never ‘shoot the messenger’ because they know it stifles communication. Right? Okay, sure we know and of course we never mean to take out our feelings on the person delivering the message. But sometimes it happens and we don’t even realize we are doing it.
Many of my clients have experienced situations where good news travels fast and bad news gets buried until it explodes. As leaders when a major issue we should have heard about weeks ago explodes onto our desk we blame the people reporting to us (employees, athletes, staff members, etc) for not coming forward with the truth. Fair enough. Maybe they “should have” come to us sooner. So why didn’t they? Simply put – the environment is not safe to share bad news. As leaders it is our job to look at ourselves and figure out what we are doing to make it unsafe.
Here is an example: A friend of mine was complaining that her college aged daughter never told her anything anymore. I asked my friend how she generally felt about the things she wanted to know. Of course she didn’t like the boy her daughter was dating, she didn’t like her staying out so late, she didn’t like how little time she spent studying. The “I don’t like” list went on and on. I asked, “Is there anything your daughter could tell you the truth about that you would like?” There was a long pause. “No I guess not.” Hmm, if every time she opens her mouth she gets speech about what she is doing wrong it is no wonder she just keeps her life to herself.
The same situation plays out on teams. If every time someone tells you about a problem they are involved in a discussion about how things got there, who is at fault and what should have been done differently your team is going to try everything they can to fix or hide a problem before coming to you. Worse, the other members of your team will learn from observation. In their heads a little voice will say, “Note to self, bury as much bad news as possible or risk being blamed.” Of course that is bad for you, bad for the team and bad for the organization.
Instead of berating the person to make yourself look good by comparison try helping them grow. In a bad situation the best thing you can do is figure out where things are (not how they got there) and then develop solutions. After the problem has been solved then look into what happened and find ways to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of the people involved to avoid a repeat. When leaders are better at helping solve problems and then teaching solutions rather than judging team members feel much safer bringing up concerns before they are out of control problems.
Here is a short list of behaviors I have seen from leaders which create a culture of hiding problems. If you think you never do any of them, ask someone who loves you enough to tell you the real truth. I bet you have a couple you could work on. Remember, you probably aren’t hiding that negative reaction as well as you think you are.
● Rolling eyes ● Exhaling heavily (huffing) ● Judging ● Being defensive ● Blaming ● Evaluating ● Refusing to help ● Humiliating someone ● Giving the “are you really that stupid” look ● Going into “should have” mode ● Giving the silent treatment ● Calling someone stupid ● Taking someone off the field or project without offering guidance ● Wishing a former team member was still around to “do things right” ● Taking someone out of the starting line without feedback ● Not sending/inviting someone to status meetings ● Giving the cold shoulder
The list could go on and on. Do you have a behavior your boss or coach does that makes you or your teammates want to hide problems for as long as you can? Share them with us!
Next week we will be talking about evaluation versus performance and why it is impossible to do them both at the same time!
Last week I talked about how people often make up reasons why other people do things. If you missed You Can’t Observe Why you can read it here.