"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Don’t bring me a problem...

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch, currently the center of media attention himself, claims he did not know that members of his staff were hacking into the private email and telephone accounts of celebrities and others. Just because he owns a zillion newspaper and media outlets doesn’t mean he has any idea about unethical practices going on in the newsrooms. 
Personally, I believe him. I believe he really did not know that this was happening. But I also believe the lack of this knowledge was his own fault.
Reports about Murdoch’s corporate environment have revealed that people were afraid to tell him about problems. Out of fear for their jobs, fear of retribution or just afraid they’d get chewed out, they avoided telling the boss that things were wrong. Is it possible that Murdoch really didn’t want to know? Or did someone misunderstand a corporate edict?
I have worked for several bosses who had a policy of, “Don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution.” While this may seem intimidating, to me it seems a way to empower people and to development their leadership skills.  “Don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution” doesn’t mean “don’t come to me if you don’t have a solution!” The captain still needs to know if the ship is sinking.
This is the way it ideally works.
·         People don’t go running to the boss with every little thing. They handle what they can at their level and fill in the boss later.
·         If the solution needs someone of higher rank to implement or if they do not have the authority to implement the solution themselves, they propose the solution and request the boss’s support.
·         If there are a variety of solutions, they offer them up for the boss to choose which one to implement.
·         In more complex situations, they have a discussion with the boss on what’s been tried or what is recommended and ask for input, advice or an alternate solution.
The employees develop problem-solving skills, confidence, and their own leadership. The boss is free to focus on larger issues that require that particular rank or level of authority. Most importantly, a sense of trust is developed throughout the organization.
The captain of a ship does not personally maintain the engines, put fuel in the boilers, repair leaks, plot the course or even steer the ship. Instead, he or she trusts the crew to make the day-to-day operational decisions to keep the ship functioning and on course to their destination. Problems that arise are handled at the lowest possible level.
But you will notice one key element in making this environment work – the boss is always informed. This is why so many organizations require various periodic reports on the status of operations, sales, profits, personnel matters, news, and so on. These reports go up the chain so that the boss is always apprised of what is going on.
This is important because, no matter what happens, the boss is always ultimately responsible.
So, which scenario would you prefer?
“Captain, we have a problem. We hit an iceberg and punched a hole in the hull. Water is coming in and we’re sinking. What should we do?”
“Captain, we hit an iceberg and there’s a hole in the hull. Water was coming in, but I had it shored up and a temporary patch put in. We’ll have to weld it, but I’ll need your authorization to secure the area while we do the work. Meanwhile, I’ve got the crew cleaning up the excess water.”
“Captain, I am sorry about the ship sinking. An iceberg punched a hole in the hull and water was coming in. We were afraid to tell you because we thought you’d get mad.”
I certainly don’t know for sure that went on in Murdoch’s organization. I cannot imagine that a captain would not want to know when a problem arises that could sink the ship. I also cannot imagine people in any position of leadership that would not have taken action to stop the problem – i.e. plug the leak, stop the unethical practices. Other managers knew about it and were afraid to tell the boss, but also didn’t take any action themselves.
It’s a Titanic mess.
I hope they brought a lot of towels.