OWNER'S MANUAL

Bosses: When You Should--and Shouldn't--Speak

If you're the kind of boss who automatically takes the lead--whatever the issue at hand--you need to read this.
Advertisement

I was standing offstage with a Nascar driver and his publicist. He was moments away from walking out to do a question-and-answer session with around 2,500 eager fans.

Why a Q&A session for a sponsor appearance, you ask? One, fans love interaction. Two, he doesn't have to prepare. He can just answer the same questions he's been asked dozens of times. For him it's minimum effort, maximum return.

When he was announced, he elbowed me and said, "Hey. Why don't you take my place?" He smiled, kidding, and walked out to bask in the thunderous applause.

His publicist leaned over and yelled in my ear, "You know...it wouldn't have been that bad if you had gone out there. You would have gotten at least one question."

"Really?" I said.

She smiled. "Absolutely: Who the [vulgar term for the act of procreation] are you?"

It's a good question and, while phrased differently, one you should often ask yourself.

Think about the meetings you lead, presentations you give, interviews you do, or announcements you make: Are you the right person to speak?

If your answer is based on some version of, "Hell, yes, because I'm the person in charge," your answer is often wrong. Even if you don't realize it, I guarantee your audience does.

Who should do the talking? Here's how to decide:

When there's good news, it's never you.

OK, maybe you really did do all the work. Maybe you really did overcome every obstacle. Maybe without you, that high-performance team would have been anything but. Maybe you really were the hero.

It doesn't matter. Give someone else the glory. Pick a key subordinate who played a major role. Pick a person who could use a confidence boost from a healthy dose of public appreciation. Everyone already knows you were in charge, so celebrate the accomplishment through other people.

Stand back and let your employees shine.

And if you happen to be reading this and don't run your own business, do your best to keep someone higher in the company food chain from delivering good news, especially if that person had no direct role in that news.

Otherwise, your team's efforts are devalued in the eyes of the eyes of others and, much worse, are devalued in your team members' own eyes.

When there's bad news, it's always you.

It doesn't matter if a supplier made the mistake. It doesn't matter if a key investor backed out. It doesn't matter if forces beyond your control negatively affected your business.

When you're in charge, you must always deliver bad news. To your employees, to your team, to customers and clients, you are the company. Support the decisions of your partners, even if you privately disagree.

Answer tough questions. Take responsibility. Model the behavior you want your employees to display.

When there's no news, no one speaks.

Everyone hates a useless meeting--except, of course, the person who called the meeting. Everyone hates a meeting that kicks off with, "I know there isn't much for us to talk about, but I still thought it was important that we get together..."

I once worked on a long-term project with four scheduled hourlong meetings per week. We met, no matter what, simply because the team leader felt we needed to "develop the habit" of attending regular meetings.

In the spirit of forming habits, I decided to form my own: I showed up but inexplicably was often called away midmeeting. (To the people who paged me right on cue to handle an "emergency," thanks!)

If a meeting will not result in decisions or plans or actions, cancel it. Let your employees do something productive instead. That way, the next time, you will have a reason to meet.

Always take a moment and choose the right person to speak. And never assume the right person is you. What gets said is certainly important, but who says it can make a bigger difference to the people who matter most--your employees.

Last updated: Sep 20, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: