Leadership 201: When You CAN’T Tell People

I’ve been caught in a couple of situations recently where people that I work with were upset–thankfully nothing major–over issues where they didn’t have the full story.

I, as one of the executives, had knowledge that they didn’t have.  But as often happens in such situations, I couldn’t share the information I had, even though it would have made their lives easier.  (Or do I mean it would have made MY life easier?)

I’ve been in situations like this before: terminating a faculty member, for example.  Budget decisions.  Decisions to shut down programs.

During my six years in administration, I’ve had somewhere between 12 – 18 situations like this, where a person or group of people were upset because administration had made a decision that rocked their corner of the institution.  And I understand why they’re upset; their value to the college is partly their ability to focus single-mindedly on THEIR corner of the institution, make it as excellent as it can be, and NOT take the big picture view.

Administrators, OTOH, have to worry about the health of the whole institution, not just ONE corner but ALL the corners and programs AND the whole gestalt of the thing.  And sometimes, what’s healthiest for the whole school isn’t what’s best for a single program, or a single person.

So how do you face it?

  • You hope you’ve built up enough emotional capital with people that they’re willing to trust you even when it’s hard.
  • You give as much information as you can, and be absolutely honest when you’re up against something you can’t say (or don’t know.)
  • You practice transparency consistently when there AREN’T jobs / programs on the line.

Leadership is about service.  You are a servant of the people you lead.  Serving requires transparency, graciousness, honesty, respect.

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