Misleading Conduct #14 – When Times Get Tough, Lock Yourself Away

 By Ian Sampson

This misrule sometimes gets interpreted heroically as “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Misleaders, however, have taken this to a new place: when the going gets tough they get going to a never-ending series of crisis sessions, or better yet a secretive crisis strategy meeting where they meet for days and don’t say a word about it afterwards.


Even when things are not panicky misleaders can still get some real joy out of this misrule by not talking to someone when an email will do. It is such fun to repeatedly see copies of emails of escalating fervour, copied to an  increasing number of people (many of whom are just down the corridor), at increasing frequency about something that should be resolved in a short conversation (after a very short walk in many cases) or by phone.

I worked recently with a Managing Director who professed to be a people person and who put in a big effort to communicate with his large workforce. Lots of messages went out about the state of the business, and they went out in many forms.  But overnight it seemed Sam was troubled by the drastic changes brought about in the financial situation of the company as a result of a major cancellation from a key client. He seemed almost rigid with fear as to how he could manage upwards to his Board about it, even though he kept up a brave front. He had to have a plan and quickly. So, he beavered away in his office, calling in factotums as required to get bits and pieces of data to cobble together a revised strategy for holding the numbers and which could be sold to the Board. All good stuff but not enough in itself. His people, who were used to lots of contact and meaning making from the boss, were left in a vacuüm. From  science we know that nature abhors vacuums and always seek to fill empty  space with something. Very quickly stories, half-truths, mischief, personal stuff, cynicism and other things moved in. Performance dropped even further as clients became confused and concerned about corporate capacity.

By all means, plan and re-plan when things change. But you must realize that when things are tough everyone in the organization knows about it. (After all they probably knew of the impending problem before you did!). All your people want to know what you are planning to do. Most will want to get in behind you, particularly if they have been involved and consulted with appropriately before final positions are taken.

Leaders tell their people what has changed to cause the plan to change and why. Leaders tell them what they are going to do. They ask for their help. They report back frequently on progress and problems. Real leaders use the tough times to create new levels of performance, satisfaction and accomplishment.

About Ian:  Ian Sampson (B.Comm., LLB., FAICD, FAIM)  is a Cause & Effective Associate. He is a Strategic Advisor to Boards, an Executive Coach and a Facilitator of our Powerful Leadership in Action Program. He can be contacted here.

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B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

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