Sunday, December 21, 2008

Trust and learning in a time of change

"But never forget ... our mission is to recognize contraries for what they are: first of all as contraries, but then as opposite poles of a unity." ~ Herman Hesse

There's a lot of tension flying around companies at the moment. This holiday shopping season, and the financial results it generates for companies, will lead to some potentially scary decisions in January. If you feel everyone holding their breathe until the new year, you're not alone. The pressure and fear is immense and wide-spread.

This morning, I read my Daily Good email that highlight a Harvard Business Review article about trust in a time of extreme mistrust, and leading change in a time of change - both incredibly difficult things to do and quite frankly two things that many managers are not good (although they don't always know that but their team does.) For example, some managers think they're change agents simply because they question everything. The fine line that separates change agents from managers who only ear what they want to hear is how they ask the question and what their end-goal is. A change agent wants to examine possibilities, dig in to the issue, and examine detail in an effort to fully understand the issue at hand so a collaborative solution can be found. They take a balanced approach. 

Managers who hear only what they want to hear, also ask a lot of questions but ignore any of the details of what they're asking for. These are the "I don't care what it takes, just make it happen" managers. They will steamroll over their people, squeeze change out them, and then sit back quite proud of themselves of how they've transformed the group. Unfortunately that transformation came at the group's expense, not to their benefit. And if you have one of these managers, I am very sorry. Truly. I know where you're coming from and so do most of my friends. You are in a no-win situation because there is no reasoning with that kind of manager. Your leader doesn't have balance, and without balance that person cannot lead effectively, much less mentor you.  

So what can you do? Reach out, way out, in your organization. Extend the olive branch at every turn, whether the person is in your group or not. Take this time to expand your network - you'll feel better meeting new people in your organization that may have nothing to do with your job now, but could in the future. You can find solace in partnership, strength in unity. And that solace and unity is what's going to get you through this economic bust. 

The other thing you can do is focus on the learning, not the bad behavior your fearful manager is exhibiting. Bob, one of my former bosses, gave me this counsel and I think of it all the time. He would say that no matter what happened to him in his career, good or bad, he knew it was all good learning and it made him a better person and a better manager in the end. Take this time to think about how important it is to build trust with the people you work with and for, and go out and exhibit that trust while also relying on your skills and ingenuity that will help you persevere. It's a tough road, I know, but at this point it may be the only way forward.   

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