#273 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 4          April 1997

FORUM--from our readers

No Need to Always Please!

I’ve enjoyed managing teams—of all sizes—for many decades.  What has most exasperated me is people whose main goal is to please me, their boss.  I end up not trusting these do-gooders, even though they desperately want to be trusted.

What got me to write this Forum was a recent situation where one of my staff thought that a deadline I set for someone else also pertained to him.  The deadline, that he imagined, was totally impossible to reach.  But, meanwhile, he cut corners and tried everything to reach it.  In doing so, he totally messed up the project.  Why didn’t he come to me for help or for clarification?  “I assumed that you knew what you’re doing when you set the deadline,” he said.  Grrr!!!

Another recent example was a staff member who came up to me after a team meeting and told me that her colleague disagreed with my view of a difficult business situation.  I confronted that colleague and asked why she didn’t voice her opinion in front of the group so that everyone would have a chance to assess the situation.  She said, “I shouldn’t be allowed to confront your views.”  Once again, Grrr!!!

Of course, many people who’ve started out in my group try hard to find out what I want, and do what they can to reach those goals.  But I’m a pretty informal person, and they soon learn that will take any advice to reach these goals as soon as, and as cost-effective as, possible.  Within a little while, most of my staff feels free to offer their own ideas which, not to rarely, go against mine.  And it is those ideas that frequently make the biggest advances to our projects.

But, then again are the do-gooders.  Something in their backgrounds must have given them a real fear of failure, embarrassment or just concern about correcting someone with a title more advanced than theirs. 

I find that if, within three months of working in my group, they still fear my imagined wrath for stating that my ideas may not always be the best ones, then it is hopeless to change them.  I’ve tried.  I’ve told them that nothing bad will happen even if they criticize me and offer an idea that is really stupid.  My actions certainly back this up.  Many, in the teams, offer criticisms and suggestions directly to me, in public and in private.  I want their ideas!  I want as many ideas as possible, and I want them all the time.  Still, the do-gooders keep their mouths shut and nod in agreement with anything I say.  This happens even after I’ve had heart-to-heart talks explaining why they need to express their honest opinions on a work issue.

In one case, I got to find out what was behind one of my people’s “don’t disagree” phenomenon.  This person, with a Ph.D., was warned by his thesis advisor not to oppose a theory the advisor was proposing, even though the student’s data didn’t support it.  The then-student desperately wanted to get his degree but had to bury his head in the sand in order to get it.  Most people, I believe, would have found another advisor.  Anyway, this situation obviously had a great effect on him, since he received that degree more than a decade before he joined my group.

I certainly have no credentials as an expert psychoanalyst; however, we probably should prod these do-gooder types to seek outside help for the purpose of increasing their value to the team.


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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.