“Don’t shoot the messenger.”
These words echoed in my mind some months ago as I walked into the office of the CEO of a company that had hired me to conduct a study of their employees in order to determine their levels of engagement and commitment to the organization’s success.
Face-to-face interviews, peer group discussions and one-on-one phone calls with employees based far away paved a way for the messages to became clear and consistent.
Overwhelmingly those with whom I spoke, had little good to say about the company, its management and their plans for the future. Numerous employees pointed out the only reason for remaining with the company is the present state of our local economy which has made job seeking extremely difficult.
Many fingers were pointed directly at the CEO as being the key person culpable for allowing a culture of bullying, disrespect, infighting, territorialism and complete lack of cooperation between departments to thrive under his watch.
And now I was about to enter his domain and share the good news with him.
Which is why the phrase, “don’t shoot the messenger,” repeated itself with every step I took in entering his office.
This was not my first rodeo. Over the years I have attended many such meetings and always felt somewhat uncertain and concerned as to the response I would get.
The word delusional is defined as meaning: 1. Having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions:
- Maintaining fixed false beliefs even when confronted with facts.
On many occasions I have witnessed delusional at work. Presenting information to senior executives that is highly critical has often lead to strong emotional outbursts with statements like, “Tell me who said these things, and I will fire them today,” or “If they don’t like it they are free to leave,” along other similar caustic remarks.
Several times my report has led to strong condemnation by the CEO of those managers who report directly to him/her
And on rare occasions I have experienced outright denial of every word contained in my report, usually followed by a scathing blast of anger directed at me which has occasionally preceded accusations of me making up data in order to “stir the pot.”
On this day the report I was about to deliver was particularly critical of the organizational culture in general and of the CEO in particular.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” bounced through my brain one final time as I handed him a copy of the report and began the discussion.
And what a delightful discussion it turned out to be.
He acknowledged that for years he had heard rumblings of these levels of discontent and had chosen to ignore them because, “I just didn’t want to deal with it and frankly I couldn’t bring myself to believe that any of us could be attributed to me.”
The meeting had been scheduled for 90 minutes yet 3 ½ hours later, we were still talking about the undeniable role that organizational culture plays in determining human performance and that learning the very basics of behaviour in the workplace must become a priority not only for himself but also for every manager in the organization.
He acknowledged that use of being delusional – pretending it just wasn’t so – had taken an enormous toll on the organization and admitted that for the first time in his career he was now open to accepting the degree of complicity we all have in influencing the behaviours of those with whom we interact.
I left the meeting delighted at his willingness and openness to look inside himself and accept ownership of his role in directing and sustaining the culture of his organization and his willingness to lead the change in creating a new and improved one.
To me, he exemplified the hallmarks of a great leader and in the short time since then I have heard nothing but compliments about him and the trickle-down effect his willingness to examine and improve his own behaviour has had on his organization.
He has asked me to repeat the information gathering process in six months from now and I can’t wait to present the report to him that I’m confident will result from that project.
I know when I walk into his office my prayer, “don’t shoot the messenger,” will be an unnecessary one.
This man exemplified the fact that one person’s open-mindedness, and willingness to lead by example, can change an entire organization.
A true gem.
Till we read again.