When an Issue Arises, Admit It Two Reasons Leaders Should Publicly Acknowledge Problems
Leaders make a huge mistake when problems arise, but they act as if there is no issue. Ignoring a matter does not make it go away. People know.
We must be as transparent as possible, as quickly as possible, for two reasons.
An issue arose.
I was recently at Exchange, a high-impact three-day leadership experience, hosted annually by John C. Maxwell. Each year, his team organizes an extravagant surprise for the attendees. These surprises are always outside the box and impressive. For example, last year one of the main speakers, the Delta Airlines president, chartered a private Delta jet for us, and he traveled with us to an undisclosed destination. We boarded a plane in Atlanta not knowing where we would land! After a short flight to Nashville, we were in for an entire evening of surprises and great speakers. It was off the charts! This year though, John’s team missed the mark. But the way they handled the issue was spot on.
This year’s surprise was a celebrity chef. (I will keep his name under wraps.) He gave us an hour lecture about his life and business. After a full day of truly gifted and amazing speakers, like former Boeing and Ford CEO Alan Mulally, the chef’s talk was a huge letdown. He mumbled with great enthusiasm about ideas and thoughts that quite frankly made no sense to anyone. His one redeeming act was the amazing dinner he prepared for us. His talk, on the other hand, left us feeling bewildered and deflated. It was nothing close to the experience we had the previous year.
I left that evening thinking that was it. I expected the John Maxwell team to keep moving forward. After all, everything else was top notch. But I was quite surprised by what happened next.
First thing the following morning, the CEO of The John Maxwell Company addressed the entire audience. He said he understood they had flopped. Then John Maxwell—the man we all revere as the leadership guru, the one who has touched all of the conference guests’ lives in profound ways—also confronted the issue. For maybe five minutes, he, too, talked about how terrible the experience the night before had been. He made a few jokes about the chef and about his team, though he never threw anyone under the bus. Nor did he shy away from taking responsibility. When he finished, he invited the manager who ran the event to come on stage to say a few words.
After that, John (never one to miss a teachable moment) told us there are two reasons leaders should not avoid talking about bad things when they happen.
Reason #1: People will think the leader doesn’t know.
When a leader does not talk about a bad event that just occurred, people may get the impression the leader doesn’t even recognize what just happened or what is currently taking place. Or perhaps the leader does not realize the impact the event made on everyone or on the organization. This leaves people feeling unconfident in their leader. After all, people follow a leader because he can steer them in the right direction. But if a leader does not see reality for whatever reason, why should we follow him or her?
Reason #2: The leader is not authentic.
It is also important for a leader to publicly acknowledge when bad events take place because if he avoids it, people are left with the impression the leader wants to intentionally hide it, or perhaps he does not think we matter enough to share it with us.
Confronting uncomfortable or untimely situations is a matter of character. Healthy leaders have honor and integrity. They value and respect the people they lead. For this reason, when anything terrible takes place, they stand up and speak the truth. In a sense they are saying, “I want to be honest with you in everything. I will not hide or lie about anything, and I think you are important enough to know what is going on.”
I try to practice the two points Dr. Maxwell shared as best as I can. If I may expound, still another reason I endeavor to practice transparency when something bad happens on my team, is when I share it authentically, my connection with people grows. Open communication always affirms the value of our relationships.
I challenge you today to rise to the calling of your leadership when bad things happen. Be in the know, and have the courage to be transparent about it with your people.
For Further Reading: