Leader Volume 9, Number 12
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.
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.
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
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
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