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The Fragile Ego With The Corner Office

Posted by on July 10, 2008

There are few magazines that I will read cover to cover and Men’s Health is on that list. Because of this I now can make a healthy dinner if I’m ever lost in the woods, fend off the flu with a mix of bell peppers, and do that special trick in bed solely reserved for gymnasts and Cirque du Soleil performers – someday I promise myself to try it with someone. Thanks MH.Today, I read their article, “8 Things To Never Say In A Meeting”. It had the sound of a hilarious read but #5 brought a number of thoughts to mind, specifically a missing link on the corporate totem pole.

#5: “I can’t make that number.”

Candor is never appreciated, particularly in financial matters. My bud Spagnola once went into a budget session as a senior vice president and came out as a consultant in charge of nothing. He had the smart idea of telling the chairman that his revenue expectations were “unrealistic in this economic environment.” Was he wrong? No. But in that venue he might as well have hocked a loogie on the boardroom table.

The rules of any financial meeting are clear: (1) All current assumptions are to be accepted. (2) No definitive statements will be tolerated, especially negative ones. (3) Every word should strengthen the impression that senior management is in control.The time to inform management of your genuine situation is well before the deposition. That way they can scream at you, peel you off the floor, and then say that what you told them was their idea all along.

Sure, I understand the concept, and have unfortunately seen this repetitive one act play in motion but that doesn’t make it right. I can see this mentality making more sense in a small business where Joe Smith will run his paint shop exactly how Joe Smith wants to run his paint shop; but in a corporate environment I think it’s a quick way to repeated failure and sure fire way to build distrust within the team.

And this isn’t the first time I’m seen this advice passed onto the corporate masses. People give advice on how to NOT speak your mind in meetings as gospel; typically it centers around a genuine fear of dismissal.

When did it become wrong to be right? Does middle management even

want solutions and answers to their objectives or just a boardroom full of yes men ready to shower praise on the boss? But these same yes-men hover quietly ready to dive like vulchers when the clearly flawed plans of their managers and VPs fall flat where they were expected to. Is that this what we’ve all turned into? A group of workers slyly awaiting the guy above us on the corporate ladder to fall off? I feel like we started out playing chess and somewhere along the way we began jumping over pawns and screaming “King Me” on the other side.If this is the way things are going (as don’t believe we’re exactly there yet), the limited amount of corporate employees able to think for themselves are being advised to follow decision makers that don’t have the presence of mind to take criticism from those they’ve supposedly hired to help them. The school of thought that says the best leaders surround themselves with people smarter than themselves is an incomplete thought. An ideal leader has the ability not only to select the best roster for his team, but also the intellect and reason to navigate through his own flaws to act on the input from the collective professionals he’s assembled.

Along our capitalist evolution there are facets of our corporate structure that’s afraid to hear what’s wrong with the system; afraid to look into the mirror and make the necessary adjustments. Instead we dismiss those with the courage to speak up – that possibly have the correct answers- as “negative”, “not team players”, and my all-time favorite, “unsupportive”. Employees are so fearful to lose their jobs they’re afraid to step forward when they see their peers or company headed towards disaster.

Now to be fair, I can relate with wanting to hang the guy that no matter what the meeting is about or what the forward strategy might be, finds a way to shoot holes through it. That’s not right either. Its recommended to hold back your feelings of impending doom unless if you’ve come up with a way to save the day. I mean, we all understand its raining, so unless you have access to a dozen umbrellas, or a place to take shelter, keep the weather report under wraps. Don’t just look for errors, do your homework and find solutions. No one likes a debbie downer, but everyone loves a home-run in the bottom of the ninth.

Personally, I would rather be on a team that works in unison towards a solution than blindly and “positively” follows a leader who can’t see past his overly optimistic earnings report.

I’m not trying to encourage a mutiny on middle management but perhaps a more open discussion prior a finality in planning would give those within the process more of a stake within their own positions and lead us away from the “all hail to the chief” mentality.

Because even though the captain goes down with the ship, if the team is firmly attached to his hind parts, they’ve affectively become his life raft.

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