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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders, STEM

Leaders: Trust But Verify

WhenPeopleShowYOuWhoTheyAreThere are times when I am absolutely amazed at some of the conversations that are posted to social media. Recently, one of my friends raised the following question: “Who is the [political activist] that is always in the news speaking on behalf of [a certain group] of people?” Good question and a great segway to an issue that comes up daily in business, STEM, and just about any place else: When a personal choice or decision is requested of you [me], why is it that in some instances, others insist on providing the answer for you [me]?

Some of you are already asking: Well isn’t that the role of a manager(s) or supervisor(s)? Of course it is – when it is under the area of responsibilities assigned to the supervisor or manager. However, the phrase “when a personal choice or decision is requested of you [me]” is provided as the lead-in to the above question. Just about any person I know – teachers, line workers, managers, stay-at-home moms or dads, CEOs, dentists, lawyers, consultants, etc. – when given a choice, prefers to exercise their right to make that choice.

However, there are a few that would beg to differ with this approach. These types believe that employees, professional colleagues and even friends don’t have a say in anything, especially when an opportunity is involved. At work, they would never ask an employee what their preferences are. Personally, some of these folks aren’t interested in talking with anyone that disagrees with them. They strongly believe they have the right to tell others what to do, and this extends well beyond their job description.

Example 1 (from Vi’s arsenal of personal experiences)

While on an extended assignment, I and several of my colleagues were encouraged to apply for a handful of open positions. Each position was at least one level above our assigned level. So, we did. Later I discovered that I was the only one in this group that didn’t get an invitation to interview for one of these positions. When I inquired as to why I was not interviewed (?), it was later discovered that my manager had successfully convinced the office assistant of the hiring manager that I was no longer interested in this position. To add insult to injury, he instructed her to take my name off of the interview list. According to him, I was very happy working for him and no longer interested in leaving his department.

Unless I suffered a severe case of amnesia, the conversation above that my manager referred to never took place. Although the less than professional behavior by this person didn’t come as a surprise to me, what was just as disturbing to me is that I did not receive any type of notification or confirmation, verbal or in writing, from the office assistant or the hiring manager – especially since I submitted the application in writing, and the alleged request to proceed in a different direction did not come from me.

The example cited above clearly shows the calculated decision that was made by the manager as an attempt to ensure that I stayed in his organization. Clearly, this person had no interest in me exercising my right or choice to apply for one of the open positions. Even if I had been granted an interview, there was no guarantee that I was going to be offered the position. I suppose this was his way of eliminating any potential upside of me being one of the successful candidates. Now, I was told that the manager considered me to be a good worker and didn’t want to lose me from his group. However, the unspoken message that I received from his actions was completely opposite.

Just in case you are wondering why his actions didn’t surprise me, my answer is provided in the following quotes. “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,” by Maya Angelou. The other comes from Oprah Winfrey who embellishes the late Dr. Angelou’s quote by saying: “Remember this because it will happen many times in your life. When people show you who they are the first time believe them. Not the 29th time…” Believe me when I tell you that this person didn’t need to show me twice what his intentions were towards me.

Needless to say, there was egg on everyone’s face. The late former U.S. President, Ronald Reagan said, trust but verify, in reference to the former Soviet Union’s weapons treaties and inspections. Consider it wise advice from a respected leader when addressing most work and non-work related issues. Every coin has two sides, and so does the flattest pancake. Leaders look at both sides of an issue, prior to making a decision.

Example No. 2 (from Keith, a colleague who works for a mid-size company)

Keith shares that he had a co-worker that insisted on reframing questions for his input and those of other employees. This was done in an attempt to steer them towards giving the answer that was most advantageous for the co-worker’s desired outcome(s). Here’s the rub: Even if a person like this is successful in hoodwinking you into making a false choice, it usually catches up with them. One would have to be totally isolated from others to not be able to figure this out after a short period of time. Needless to say this type of behavior does not make for good working relationships.

Then again, isolation strategies are often used to achieve a desired outcome. They leave you out of the communication channel, talk over your head or around you – supposedly with the best of intentions for all parties involved.

You can also find in this group, those that don’t even bother to talk to you at all. Instead they jump out ahead of you – often without your knowledge – and proceed to steer you and others in the direction that they want to go. This is what the manager above did to me. That’s when tripping over good and not so good intentions comes into play.

Once you are on to their shenanigans, they pretend to not have the slightest clue about what you are talking about. I’d like to believe that most organizations do not operate this way. I’d also like to think that when these bad actors and actresses rear their ugly heads, the organization takes immediate steps to squash this behavior or flush them out. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

To the few but capable leaders out there: Be careful of those who offer to steer your ship, especially if you didn’t ask them to. You already know the work you have put into building your brand and reputation. Why take a chance that the opportunist will veer off-course, or worse, run your ship aground?

Tripping over good and not so good intentions is a topic for a future post. Now back to the political activist. As I shared with my friend: There may be some who want Mr. Political Activist to speak on their behalf. However, I can speak for myself, so he does not speak for me.

Until then, trust but verify….

[P.S. If you like what you are reading, consider reading other posts and leaving a comment(s).]


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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