What happens if supervisors do not want to hear bad news?
An article in the Washington Post on Trump's reaction to negative comparisons of the number of attendees at the presidential inauguration and that of his predecessor nicely captures the consequences of his hubris:
"President Trump had returned to the White House on Saturday from his last inauguration event, a quiet prayer service, as the flashes of anger began to grow. Trump turned on the television to see a shrill juxtaposition - massive demonstrations around the globe protested against his presidency, and at the same time the footage revealed the small numbers of those present at his inauguration, with large white blank spaces in the street. And while his press secretary, Sean Spicer, was still unpacking boxes in his new, spacious West Wing office, Trump was increasingly visibly angry. "
The result, as we know, was a hastily called press conference, in which Spicer reiterated easily untruthful untruths about the size of the public in Trump's Inauguration, and severely reprimanded journalists. Thus Trump undermined his position in the media immediately and permanently.
What is the CEO syndrome?
Even if this is an extreme example, leaders such as President Trump are by no means uncommon; they occur all the time with leaders of the top management level. I call the phenomenon "CEO Syndrome", the dangerous inclination of some executives will not be able to deal with bad news the impact on everyone who works for them, and ultimately to the health of their organizations.
Why is that a problem? Because bosses who can not deal with bad news are surrounded by people who isolate them or tell them what they want to hear. The vulnerabilities that arise are obvious and potentially serious to their organizations. When bad news is denied or does not come to the surface, crises are virtually inevitable. Issues that should have been raised and dealt with are suppressed until they explode into harmful "predictable surprises."
The danger of not being able to deal with reality
Beyond the perceived dangers of this kind of denial, superiors who can not deal with reality, deny their subordinates also the reality. In the process, these subordinates are completely dependent on the supervisor and need to support and defend something that others in the organization can demonstrably recognize as wrong. This Article from Tyler Cohen at Bloomberg brilliantly the effects of such a superior on the behavior of the subordinates.
"By requiring subordinates to speak falsehoods, a leader of subordinates can undermine his independent position, including his position in the public, the media, and other members of the administration. This makes these individuals more dependent on the leader and less susceptible to independent insurgency against the command structure. The promotion of such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader mistrusts his subordinates and expects to distrust them in the future. "
In this way, the dysfunction of executives "infects" the entire organization, again with potentially disastrous consequences.
No one is immune to the CEO syndrome
While in some cases these behaviors are simply part of the leader's core personality, no one, not even the best leader, is truly immune to the CEO syndrome. The position at the top of the organization goes hand in hand with the power to shape reality, at least until the walls collapse inside. It is the extraordinary leader who never succumbs to the temptation to isolate himself from the bad news, to isolate himself, or to let others tell him what he wants to hear in order to gain power. And it is the exceedingly brave (or reckless) subordinate who is truly willing and able to "speak truth to the Force".
Particularly vulnerable are leaders who have been in the role for some time and are beginning to isolate themselves from criticism by surrounding themselves with people who are creating a calming echo chamber. So do not let this happen to you.
How to avoid the CEO syndrome?
- Create a culture where bad news comes quickly on the table. Like Colin Powell carries"Bad news is not wine; they do not get better with age. "This really means listening openly and grasping that things have gone wrong, not shooting the messenger and not telling the people who work with you," Bring me solutions, not problems. " (Plans yes, but not fully elaborated solutions, unless you want to slow down the flow of information). It also acts as a deterrent for people in the organization to hide important information.
- Create and use a diverse network of consultants. Do not build a clone team. Cultivate and listen when people are promoted with different perspectives. Read a lot and from many different sources. Get out into the world. Refuse to be isolated.
- Build dedicated units to scan the environment, develop and explore scenarios, and provide early warning. Do not let it be a bureaucratic exercise.
First and foremost, remember that the culture of your organization is yours Executive is powerfully shaped - for better or for worse.
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