The one with the no men

So the journey through ‘The West Wing’ continues. For herself it’s the first timem for me it’s the several-th time but every time I watch it I still find little on television past or present to rival it. In an episode we watched recently the President, suffering from a bout of insomnia, consults a therapist. At the end of a two-hour conversation the therapist announces ‘time’s up – we’re done’ and the President, being the most powerful man in the world and all that says,

“I hate to put it this way, but I’m me, and you’re you, and we’re done when I say we’re done.”

Interestingly, rather than yielding to the clear power in the room the therapist pushes back and says aside from his family he’s going to the one person in the world who doesn’t care that he’s talking to the President. Brave man!

It’s interesting watching people in powerful positions and how they treat the people around them and how they expect those people to behave towards them. Hang on a second – the second half of that sentence depends on perception – it could read how they are perceived to expect the people around them to behave towards them…

Have you ever talked to a leader who complained of being surrounded by ‘yes men’? The question I always want to ask (and once did ask) is “do they tell you what you want to hear because of them or because of you?”. Creating an environment where it’s safe to tell truth to power requires both a leader who encourages that behaviour but also people surrounding that leader who are willing to take that courageous step and be a ‘no man’. Of course it’s incumbent on the leader to behave consistently and not shift the goal posts and absolutely essential to the person making the challenge to do it in a manner that is appropriate and allows the leader the space and position to admit being wrong.

I have written about courage (and cowardice) before and having reread those posts this evening I still feel that the work written on ‘Courage as a skill’ is valid to someone considering making this kind of challenge but the thought I keep on coming back to is that whilst there are smart ways to go about being courageous at the end of the day it is a matter of stepping up and doing it rather than letting an opportunity to get the right outcome for the organisation sail past.

If you are that leader (because SOOO many CEOs read this blog) take a moment and ask yourself if anyone ever tells you you’re wrong. If no one ever does look at yourself first before you look at ‘them’ and if you truly believe your behaviour should be engendering more challenge from your team then maybe you need to hire more people willing to tell you that you’re being an idiot….

Having looked in the mirror recently I realise I’m fine….not so much because of my behaviour but just for the long list of people more than happy to inform me of my idiocy 😉


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One response to “The one with the no men

  1. So true! In the past year I have, again and again, been in the situation where a leader has told me they want to hear what people think but when someone shares their contribution is shot down. Then the leaders can’t understand why no-one else wants to put forward ideas! It’s all very well encouraging views but it’s what is done once they are shared that is important.

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