No news is not good news

Photo by kishorephotography

In Hebrew we have a saying: “The cobbler always walks barefoot”. A week or so ago, I lived this saying in real life. Although I write about management and leadership in this blog, and talk about the importance of communication, partnership and balance, I sometimes fail to implement these practices skillfully in real life. I am trying not to make the same mistake twice and as I believe in the importance of reflection I will share my thoughts on what happened.

I am managing a project where the participants of a course need to research a legal issue and hand-in written opinions. These are inexperienced students and while I am not an expert on the material they are researching, I have much more experience in the process of handling such a project. My role is to support and help them create specific deliverables.

After the project started I worked with one of the teams according to my usual philosophy that my role is to help them learn and that I will am not going to provide answers, but help them ask the right questions. The first draft they handed in did not meet the desired standard (which was expected) and we had a meeting and feedback was provided. To my surprise, when the deadline arrived and I received their new product, the final deliverable was worse than the original draft. It was as if instead of going forward they actually literally went backwards.

When I analyzed what happened I realized that the trust I put in these intelligent and motivated people and my belief that they should be left alone to find their own way, was translated into lack of communication in the time passed between the first draft and the final product. They did not come to me so I thought, instinctively, no news is good news. I should have known better.

I am in the process of writing a draft for an academic article dealing with management of cross-boundary teams dealing with innovation. In this article, Prof. Lechner and I claim that in such teams leadership should be practiced from the back focusing on the process instead of the content. However, as we emphasize in the article, leadership for the back does not mean lack of leadership. On the contrary, it means delving deeper into the team and making sure the right processes are in place, so the innovative work will be able to emerge from effective interaction.

This is exactly the pitfall I fell into. Allowing employees to handle the challenges and giving the autonomy does not mean a manager should turn the lights out in his office and go home. Just the opposite. In many ways, process leadership is much harder.

I hope I learned my lesson. Did you?

Elad

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2 Responses to “No news is not good news”

  1. Anne Says:

    Very insightful… I don’t think your usual philosophy is necessarily wrong, but one size does not fit all. If we can keep this in mind when approaching a project or anything for that matter the outcome will be much better.
    Had you already had a long established relationship with these individuals the outcome might have been very different. It’s easy to just become automatic in our approach and thats something we all have to be mindful of regardless of our occupation or authority. Good article because it happens to the best of us the real question is what do you do when it happens to you…

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Thanks Anne, as usual, your comments make me think.
    After reflecting on the issue for a bit, I do not think it is about my relationship with the people (although, as you say, if I knew them better, it would have been easier). I think it is about the struggle to keep being mindful of the people around you. It sounds surprising, but although human are so good at empathy it is hard for us to keep at it and do it all the time. We need to be careful of our default setting of not making that personal effort.
    Elad


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