#508  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 12          December 2000

FORUM—from our readers

Heroes and Heroines

For about a year, my department had been involved with a somewhat risky project.  If the project would have been successful, it would have been a major competitive advantage for the company.  We’d be heroes. 

Unfortunately, the project wasn’t working out.  In fact, we were able to prove it would never work.  That, in itself, was an important contribution, so our efforts certainly weren’t wasted.  But our department director didn’t accept this proof.  He hoped, against all odds, that somehow we can go against the forces of nature to overcome the barrier to success.  Not a single one of us, who do the actual work, agree that it would be possible to achieve the goals. 

It’s not bad to have a supervisor who tries to push beyond what the staff believes is possible.  In fact, I’m sure there are many examples where something very special has been achieved by the force of a leader who won’t take “no” for an answer.

The problem was that we were ordered not to tell anyone in the company that we believe the project won’t work.  We were ordered to be “optimistic” when other people in the company asked about the work or attended our meetings.  The department director told us that he has been presenting an optimistic version and that we had to back him up.  This, of course, led to all kinds of duplicity.  For instance, at a review meeting in which two executives attended, we had to rehearse our presentations before our department director.  We were told not to bring in the data that gave the death knell to the hoped-for results.

We were getting more and more deeply mired into this hoax, and I felt sure that would eventually explode in our faces.  I wondered if I should tell my supervisor that I am going to inform the executives that they are being duped?  What will be my future with the company then?  I guess I could have sent an anonymous note to the executives; or, perhaps, I could get a bunch of my co-workers to sign the note.  However, there would be a fair chance that I’d be fingered as the instigator.  In fact, if some other person sent an anonymous note, I’ll probably be accused, since I’ve been the most vocal within the department about this issue.

My decision, eventually, was to confront--more directly than I had in the past--my department director, to tell him that I was going to explain our dilemma to his superior in seven days.  The next day, my boss set up an appointment with his supervisor--and brought me along.  He explained that he hoped, possibly beyond reason, for success of this project.  Consequently, he felt that “somehow” the project would overcome the barriers, and complimented me on finally getting him to accept the reality. 

By the way, there were two anonymous heroines in this story.  I made my decision after long discussions with my wife, and my department director’s decision also involved his wife’s input.  The story ends well!

Anonymous

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