Avoiding Avoidance

Posted by jlubans on March 30, 2021

null

In preparing for another column on “What I Would Do Differently”, I listed out a baker’s dozen of instances in my career where I could have done better. These were conflicts; those times when someone seeks to frustrate something you want to do.
Looking at that sorry list, it dawned on me that while each of those snafus was a personal failure, my saying so and explaining how I would follow up did not address a more important question.
Could any of the dozen been averted?
What in general could I have done differently before the situation became a problem?
All too often, my silence or failure to follow up, may have escalated a small problem into something larger.
Were there not ways to anticipate and nip an incipient problem in the bud?
Was there a lack of clarity in my message, then how could I have changed that?
Did I not listen to my colleagues? How could I change that?
Were my colleagues not interested in or swayed by my intentions?
Did they not understand my purpose in making a change?
When I stated my belief that simplicity was preferable to complexity, did anyone understand what I meant?
I rarely explained; rather I assumed. And, as we know, there’s an adage for that. (When you take away the U and the ME that leaves ASS and a silly one at that).
No, we cannot know all eventualities nor do we need to, but we do want the key points well understood.
You should not leave it up to the staff to figure it out for themselves.
Some were already on my wavelength so they were not confused. Others – too many - tried to understand but, without clarity from the leader, failed to do so.
This latter outcome undercut my belief in and practice of the concept of subsidiarity; that ideas and processes are always best developed and tried out at the local level, not from above.
For that philosophy to succeed the people doing the work had to understand what I was hoping for.
At the start of any new initiative I should have made questions de rigueur, expected and wanted. Not just the abrupt “Any questions?” at the end of a meeting when everyone’s heading out the door.
Since it was not self-evident for everyone, I should have done far more follow up explaining about meanings and what was to be done. .
The Red Team technique would have been one way for those involved to really get at the pros and cons of a new way of doing something.
And, even if you can’t use a Red Team for every idea, you can do something similar, like worst-case scenarios, a plus delta, or a list of plusses and minuses and the major reasons for and against.
Any of these would help avoid the seemingly inevitable misunderstandings; they’d deter that predictable cycle I observed in those dozen miserable instances referred to at the top.
Lest ye misunderstand, I am not talking about the classical business bugbear, Communication about a made decision.
Rather, I speak of my explaining more and better of what I was trying to do and seeking feedback and advice prior to the decision. I would want to engage those working with me, both direct reports and my fellow executive leaders.
Anger was a response I underused.
For example, when one of my staff displayed an uncooperative attitude, I should have been far more explicit in why her response was unacceptable.
Instead, my tacit acceptance – like the dog in the elevator - allowed her to get away with it only to worsen matters between us.
A touch of controlled anger (a remonstrative bark or growl) would have helped get her attention and then I could have explained calmly what it was I was trying to do and what I expected from her.
After all, I was the top dog, was I not?
In another instance, I should have been furious when one of my peers grabbed me by the head, admonishing me to think.
He was offended by something I had said, perhaps jocularly, but he stepped way out of bounds when he touched me.
I ignored it, naturally, but my anger was clearly called for. I should have demanded an apology at the least and then find out what prompted that behavior.
These last few decades have given us a contrast in how leaders respond to criticism and insults. The Presidents Bush and Mr. Trump represent extremes. Mr. Trump, like a pro-wrestler, when slapped, slapped back.
That made for news and probably impeded some policy objectives but his disruptive, abrasive behavior (kick ass) also probably made some good things happen (vaccine development, for example) that never would have happened with a gentle prodding of an elephantine bureaucracy.
The Bushes, father and son, never took umbrage in public at insults hurled - like shoes - their way.
I had a mentor like that. He never sank to a backstabbing level. Indeed, I favored the Bush approach – never acknowledge an insult – over Trump’s never turn the other cheek, but perhaps there is a midpoint between the two?
Anger has its place and it can add clarity. There’s no question in my mind that I could have used it more and to better effect than I did. But, it takes practice and if you never use it, when you finally lose your temper, it won’t play out well.
Seeking clarity around conflict can be more difficult in some environments than others. I found that in ecclesiastical or academic conflict I was dealing with shadows. Innuendo, the perfumed dagger variety of intrigue was the preferred course of action. Unless you were born Byzantine, many pitfalls awaited.
It’s taken many years, but I have come to realize that frankness, sincerity, candor, honesty, all have to be made manifest. These qualities cannot be left to a guessing game. Nor can any be realized in silence.

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

« Prev itemNext item »

Comments

No comments yet. You can be the first!

Leave comment