The Big Idea: Don’t fear honest evaluation.

By Tim Hayes

One winter here in the Northeast delivered sucker punch after sucker punch. We soldiered on under record snowfalls that made transportation difficult, tempers short, and electricity iffy.

The local utility company liked to tell us that power interruptions could and would be worse if they didn’t maintain their policy of tree trimming to keep the electrical lines clear from falling trees and snapping branches. Having worked for an electric company somewhere in my hazy past, I know this to be true.

But that truth doesn’t make the effects of the policy any easier on the eyes.

After the snow had gone and we enjoyed lovely springtime sunshine again, a brisk walk down our cul-de-sac or a brief drive to the store for a quart of milk revealed the aesthetic assault on our arboreal friends. The power lines were clear, all right, but in the process of clearing them, the trees looked like they’ve been wildly hacked willy-nilly with little consideration to how they might appear.

It only goes to show that life poses choices like this all the time. Do you want things to work good or look good? Sometimes to do the necessary, you must accommodate the ugly.

In the world of leadership communications, the choice can come in a variety of forms and situations. Do you continue with traditional communications vehicles like newsletters or face-to-face meetings or electronic bulletin notices because they’re traditional – or do you have the courage to learn about their true effectiveness and make changes where necessary in content, format, or timing? Do you offer relentless, context-free, even misleading cheerleading to your employees, even when things aren’t going well – or do you tell the truth, followed by a positive message about plans to make the situation better?

The Enron story from a  few years back remains a classic case of communications gone haywire in the face of imminent disaster. The energy-trading house of cards was destined to collapse and the leadership team there knew it long before the actual implosion occurred. Yet they felt compelled to keep the illusion going – and not only going, but embellishing it every quarter to keep the stock price up, investor confidence high, and employee morale strong.

When reality kicked in the front door and the inevitable happened, it only made the ruse and the accompanying sense of betrayal that much more embarrassing and painful.

People can forgive just about anything but a liar.

That’s why it’s better, when there’s pain, to deal with it sooner rather than later. My three rules of great leadership communications still apply – promote the good, admit the bad, and explain improvements. It’s not always easy and it can get ugly, but sometimes it’s necessary in order to survive and move on as a leader.

Copyright 2020 Tim Hayes