One of the easiest ways to distinguish between great leaders and the all the rest is how they handle internal company crises. For some reason explaining the greatness of the chosen strategy has become increasingly popular – but what if you are wrong? What if the crisis is the (first) sign that something is really wrong?

When explaining works

I am a firm believer in arguing your case, and I believe most companies top management would benefit (some greatly) by “selling” their decisions– actually telling people why they make sense – instead of just announcing them. The precondition being that it was actually a sound decision to begin with and still is at the time of explanation. That could of course change as things develop. Explaining is not the silver bullet that removes resistance, as some managers seem to think as they keep explaining again, and again, and again, repeating the mantra of the flawless decisions and that everything will soon fall into place. What if they are wrong?

Over the years, I have witnessed endless debates on different personnel issues – are the employees happy, are they upset, are they leaving us, who is leaving, is it a problem etc. The debates aren’t new, but recently the tone has changed. It used to be something that was (almost by definition) taken very serious, now the new black is explaining why everything is really not a problem anyway.

Responsible leaders (and employees) who take their responsibilities serious will continuously raise issues – imagine if they didn’t. If the only response they ever get is yet another explanation why they need not worry, disaster is most certainly waiting to happen.

Listen very carefully

Managers need information in order to make the right decisions. The relevant information might be presented in decision briefs, prepared papers or similar, but it could just as easily be a worry raised at a random meeting. People worry for a reason – listen and try to understand why they worry. Understanding the source of the issue will help you determine whether to dismiss the issue or rethink your explanation.

Rethink the explanation

Most managers will have experienced discussing the same issue so many times that the arguments and explanations repeat themselves. Rethink it! Why is it still such a good idea, and even better if it is such a good idea, why aren’t they buying it? If you need to tell people over and over again (or new people every day) the most likely options are, that either the explanation sucks, or you suck at delivering it. If it still doesn’t work after a thorough work over, I bet something is wrong.

You might be wrong

Think about it, you might actually be wrong. Even on very important strategic choices – you could be wrong. Should that happen, would you rather know about it or bask in your ignorance? No matter the scope of the decision finding flaws or even tiny kinks in the armor will help you trim the implementation process, will allow you to address the issues before they escalate to something unmanageable, and – hey, it might even help you improve that explanation you inevitably keep giving.

Know when to stop

I fully recognize it will not happen every day, but once in a while you will make a decision with an impact far beyond the negligible – that you really ought to rethink. It isn’t necessarily your fault, maybe the world just took an unfavorable turn that day, but you need to allow for it to happen. Otherwise you will still be explaining long after anyone stopped listening – even if you make a great case next time.


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