The Deafening Sound of Silence

Oh, the sounds of silence can be deafening!  As a leader in my company, it can be very hard to have the managerial courage to speak out when something doesn’t feel right or really just doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes we don’t speak out because we convince ourselves that the person reached the top of the organization, so they must know what they are doing (also known as the blind leading the blind).  Other times we keep our mouths shut because we have seen the messenger be shot too many times.   And, in hopefully rare occurrences, we keep our mouths shut because we fear negative feedback, from peers, bosses and subordinates.

Another really problematic reason that people don’t speak up has to do with the managers views of those who speak up.  It’s more than just shooting the messenger.  It’s more like shooting the messenger, then hanging the messenger, then throwing the messenger off a bridge.  More specifically, the messenger’s opinions first get, at best, shot down and, at worst, ridiculed.  Then, after the public flogging the worst thing happens.  The employee gets labeled a trouble maker or a complainer or not a team player.  And that is a career killer.  Particularly in bureaucratic type of companies…and I have worked in a few of them.  I have found this type of problem more often in the larger companies I have worked for than the smaller.  Case in point…at one of the jobs I had (future 500 level company), my manager was extremely intelligent and in my opinion a visionary.  The problem?  The higher ups were not visionaries.   So this individual, who in my humble opinion could be running at least a division of the company, is still stuck as a middle manager. 

I have seen time and time again the negative effect that silence can have on an organization.  It has always been the most apparent to me when I have started a new job.  I am bright eyed and bushy tailed and excited about my new job and wham I get hit with a “because we have always done it that way.”  Which, I have to say is my arch nemesis.   When I hear those words a red warning light goes on, with a loud and annoying siren.

So what happens to that company?  They can’t innovate.  And they are swamped with group think.  In some companies that might be okay…like if you work for a power company where you have “captive” customers.  But in most companies, this can be crippling!  So what to do?   Build trust in the employees you manage and start from there.  When other departments see what you are doing, it could catch on.

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