“Being solid and predictable makes it safe for people to work together, to take risks, and to expose themselves even when the rest of their lives are filled with complexity and chaos”. ~ Robert Rosen
When I was a kid I loved to play hide and seek. It was always WAY more fun to be the person hiding than the person seeking, at least in my opinion. My goal was not really to be the last person found during the game; it was to scare the crap out of the kid when they found me, (of course always just after they had walked past so I could swiftly run to “base”). The seeking part was far less enjoyable. First, I knew I was about to get a taste of my own medicine and second, I was afraid of the ridicule only third graders can dish out if I failed to catch anyone. Somehow I always managed to need to go home about the time I was called on to seek.
As the years passed and I entered the workforce I discovered a new game of hide and seek. This new game involved perceptions, intentions, expectations and information. The “hiders” carefully guarded these treasures until the right moment and then “BAM!” unleashed them on you when you were unprepared, letting you stumble into the path of an oncoming organizational bus. The seekers, becoming more and more aware of the game soon developed their own strategy for avoiding these unpleasantries through retribution, bribery or refusing to participate. Ultimately the culture became consumed by this game, robbing the team of trust and draining productivity.
The unfortunate thing about hide and seek in organizations is that leaders are often the main perpetrators. Some leaders enjoy the power of knowing what others do not know and filing away this information until it can be used to manipulate, coerce and control, (or scare the crap out of somebody). In other cases a leader may hide because they believe it is in the best interest of the seeker. While certainly possible, this is rarely the case. In time this will backfire on the leader who, sooner or later, will be in the position of seeker. In need of support, information, flexibility or engagement they will find it has all been hidden and invested elsewhere. Sometimes leaders hide out of their own imagined fear of something…be it failure, lack of competency, loss of control or reputation. Hiding always has a price.
Stop playing leadership hide and seek.
- When you have an unspoken opinion or perception it will show up in your behaviors anyway. Everything will be seen through this filter. It is far better to allow your perceptions to be tested against reality. Get your thoughts into the open in a respectful manner and seek the truth. While difficult at first this almost always leads to increased trust and a better outcome for all involved.
- When you hide your intentions until the last moment you create an atmosphere of suspicion. Every move will be monitored with a watchful eye and your plots will acted on by others in self-defense whether real or imagined. An enormous waste of energy. Be open, talk about your intentions and hear the opinions of others. You’ll build respect. Even if the plan is distasteful to some they will appreciate the honesty.
- When you don’t disclose your expectations you keep people guessing about their performance. Some leaders have the hallucination that an insecure employee works harder. That could not be farther from the truth. Being straightforward in your expectations and providing honest and timely feedback will give the person a sense of security. They will know what the boundaries are and which behaviors will be rewarded. There is no guarantee they will like what you have to say but they will appreciate the security of knowing the path they need to take if they want to be successful.
- When you withhold important information that would help someone complete a task, solve a problem or make a decision the organization loses momentum. Information channeled through open and effective communication is the fuel for change, innovation, productivity and service. The goal should be to move useful information into the organization as quickly as possible where it can be put to work.
If you need a leadership game to play I recommend Yahtzee. I don’t really know why, except that I love yelling “Yahtzee”! Have you experienced hide and seek in your organization? Have you ever been a willing participant? What other effects and outcomes does this kind of activity create in teams? Please share your thoughts, stories and insights.