Enterprise Software

What's the worst thing that could happen?

Every manager has to deal with an employee who screws up. According to executive leadership coach John M McKee, the smart ones know how to handle it and move ahead, but others get stuck. In this blog, he provides advice on how to deal with being stuck.

"Yes. I do need to tell him about this. But I can't."

Ever had something very important to discuss with someone, but didn't?  Whether it's a job issue ("If she finds out about this, she'll blow her stack..") or in a personal one, there are times when we resist "sharing" even though know we should.

Therapists, consultants, and coaches usually agree that this inability- being able to have a courageous conversation with someone important - is a major reason behind failure in relationships.  It can result in divorce, separation, lack of a promotion, even a termination.

Interestingly, when you talk to someone who is stalled, they'll usually tell you that they "know" they should talk to the other person about the issue at hand, but they can't bring themselves to do it.  I've found that the principal reason behind that stall is fear, pure and simple.  The fear may be valid (it involves a possible job loss or end of a personal relationship). And the fear may be imagined, such as fear of reprisal (you're going to pay for this) or disappointment (how could you?).

So we avoid facing it, or we postpone having the difficult dialog.

And that's about the worse thing you can do.

Great leaders, like great people in general, face up to issues.  As a result, they have more success than the rest of the world.  If you think about that, I'd guess that most would agree with it.  Yet, most people don't face issues because of fear.  That fear is deadly. It leads to a lack of career success and often, personal dissatisfaction.

My advice

When facing a tough situation where you know that the right thing to do is have a courageous conversation; but you're held back because of fear - ask yourself this question: What's the worst that can happen?

Then, give yourself a few minutes, about five, to write down all the worst outcomes you could imagine. After that, go for a walk or do something that takes your mind off that list for a while.  Come back to it.  Go through it and apply a "likelihood" rating of 1 to 10 against each issue you've noted, from low to high. For example, "I could get fired," may be not be that likely so you give it a 2.  Or, "I am going to look like I messed up," may be higher so you rate it 8.

After that, take the highest rated items and ask yourself what is the worst outcome that can happen. It's probably an outcome that you can survive.

Usually, when we take a few minutes to thoughtfully and rationally face these things, we will move ahead and become stronger and more successful.  It's when we don't allow the light of day to shine on them, ignore them or postpone them that they make us less powerful and less successful as a result.

Here's to your success.

John

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

15 comments
shkfaizalam
shkfaizalam

I agree that it's one of human inefficiency called inability to deal with issues, either to some fear, retaliation or unexpected results. But if one overcomes these issues, and deal with issues both actively and proactively, it would make life more easier..

dba88
dba88

Sure people screw up occasionally! That's being human. The part I'd have to struggle with is how to overcome the potential job loss. I realize you have no choice, but on the other hand, how did you get yourself in the position in the first place to make the screw up?? You should have said, "I don't know how to do that." "I'm not familiar with it." I think instictively, we know when we get an assignment, that we might not have the knowledge and / or experience to deal with it! If you don't, speak up right then and there! Either way, you could lose your job for not having the skill(s) to perform the task, or lose your job for messing things up. But job loss is too difficult if you have a family to support and bills to pay. So, I'd ask the question, "Was it in my job description?!" You've got to speak up!! If you don't know how to perform a task, say so and be done with it! It will save a big potential headache!

TheSwabbie
TheSwabbie

I am a no BullSh** kind of guy. When I finally talked to my IT Director and confronted him about some of the things that were going on.. he found a way to fire me. I did manage to avoid A lot of the fallout because I was going out on disability anyway.. But the point is.. some people do NOT have the maturity to deal with things head on.. and when they do they feel they are being attacked. FWIW - The IT Director got canned about 10 months afterward when a new hospital CIO came onboard and heard SO MANY complaints about the guy from everyone in the hospital.. thats when he found out about what he did to me.. Hope he learned his lesson :)

v r
v r

It has been my experience that when you have that conversation, especially when you have made a big mistake, the sooner you report it to your manager AND his/her manager, the more you limit the damage (lies?) other people's words can have on your job, reputation or career. I made a mistake thinking in was in a test system when in fact I was in the production system and made a change to a customer's records. When I realized in a few minutes that I was in the production system, I immediately assessed the potential damage, took the right steps to reverse the damage to the records, called my manager and his manager and then found out why I had been given access to production. It turned out that although I had specifically and expressly (in writing) requested that I have access to the test system only, my manager had intentionally given production access to at least a dozen other people (including development programmers) who could very easily have made the same mistake. I notified the department head (who also had been given production access much to his surprise), so he would know the risk we were running and to give him a recommendation for governance over access-granting responsibilities. The customer records were corrected and the access was corrected the same day. I received great support from my manager's manager (C-level) and from the managing directors who had to be told about the incident. Despite my innocence and my quick actions, my manager still put a disciplinary note in my personnel file. Funny how my memo about the root cause and corrective actions did not stay in the file. Alas, life is not fair. I learned a valuable lesson and suffered no other ill effects. Perhaps, others can learn from my experience.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Depends on the problem, and its urgency. If the problem exists because I caused it, and I can fix it before it becomes a nightmare or negatively impacts anything else, including my work; I'll do the fix, and then notify the boss that I did an oops, and made the corrections already.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I'd rather meet an issue head on, unsurprising as that may be. Equally if someone has an issue with me, spit it out. The worst that can happen is we disagree initially, and don't resolvle it to both our satisfactions, that's it, big deal. First check that is in an issue with you and with them, someone who squeezes the toothpaste tube in the middle might be irritating, but it's not a show stopper unless there's something really wrong with you, even then you might be important enough to them to put some serious effort in to not ^&%&&^% doing that anymore. :p They sure as heck won't, if you don't mention it though. I know there are those who are uncomfortable with confrontation giving or receiving (perhaps even both). The worst that could happen? An 'issue' that meant nothing to you could harm your employment, because you didn't know it meant a lot to someone else. Or the issue you have with one of your people, will unfairly colour your perception of them and how you deal with them, then because they don't know why they'll start coming up with reasons of their own, ones that had nowt to do with toothpaste. If you don't want to make it too official, take them for a beer, have a chat, get it off your chest. If your paying they'll at least listen while you keep doing so. :( In fact you can waffle on even after they're unconscious, they won't mind.

jck
jck

I was taught by my parents this one thing: you don't have to fear telling something to someone...only the way you choose to tell them. You can tell someone they're unattractive, smell, lacking mentally, or that they have 2 noses. If you do it sensitively and in a manner of caring and compassion, you generally can get someone to understand you're doing it for their benefit...not as a slight or means of belittlement. Same goes for telling people things at work. If you approach it the right way, you can often (not always...but, often) help that person realize their shortcoming, problem, etc., and give them a means to grow and prosper. THAT is real management. Of course, a lot of managers don't know how to talk to someone because thinking about how to approach an issue with tact isn't cost effective, productive, or efficient...i.e.- a lot of managers nowadays are template-following bots who focus on "getting things done". Plus as said by others...ignoring or avoiding an issue only lets it get worse. Best to take care of things in the best way possible and resolve them ASAP.

blarman
blarman

Fear is a short-term mindset. If the problem is a long-term one (which most are), ignoring the issue only increases the probability of A)the problem getting bigger or B)the problem getting repeated. Sitting on your hands hoping the problem will go away is naivete incarnate. Smart bosses will recognize this and recognize that they need to focus on getting the problem solved more than pointing the finger of blame. Those who do this enhance the relationships they have with their subordinates and develop trust and loyalty. For a good example, look at Major League Baseball managers like Bobby Cox (now retired). His players respected him because no matter what the issue was, Cox treated it as his problem and not a failure on the part of the player, then they would work together to overcome the problem. Everything was treated as a long-term item where the success of the team depended on the success of the individual in the long term rather than the castigation of an individual in the short term.

jacobus57
jacobus57

A decision is only as good as the information at hand. If input is coming from people who blatantly lie, although all other factors indicate that they SHOULD be people of good will, then the outcome is doomed no matter how carefully one assesses the situation. I know this from hard experience. People lie; they lie in finance, they lie in business, they lie in interpersonal relationships.

smoran
smoran

I have lived my life under that premise and made most of my major and a lot of smaller and less important decisions using this technique. I can say I was a lucky one. I credit my father for the teaching and almost forcing me integrate the practice; I learned it and have been using it since I was ten or twelve years old, as he taught me to make my own decision and be responsible for my life and my outcomes. His idea was simple when you feel stuck and cannot make a decision as yourself this question, ???What is the worst thing it can happen??? make a list of the possible results, even ask others around you, friends and family if it will affect them. If you can or are willing to live with the consequences or the results the answer is move forward; if you cannot live with the consequences then simple don???t do it

Foggier
Foggier

The proposed solution hits a problem common to self-help gurus: they assume you can be both irrational and rational at the same time. When I get anxious (yes, stemming from fear), I tend NOT to think rationally. I cannot easily step back, take a breath, become rational, then calmly write out my problems and their potential ramifications. This doesn't go away simply because I waited 15 minutes--I'm afraid, and it is on my mind. If I could get it out of my mind easily, I likely wouldn't have the problem in the first place. This is much like various cognitive therapy techniques. They seem to say (at least to me), "You are being irrational, stop it and think rationally." I know I'm anxious and I'm acting irrationally, I know I'm acting out of fear. Just knowing that doesn't help--it makes it worse. Maybe this techique helps for people for whom the anxiety is minor or very infrequent. In that case, I guess it would be good for them.

gechurch
gechurch

It amazes me so few people (from what I've seen) do this. It's so simple! In IT, only an idiot would expect you to know everything. If you get asked to do something that you're not sure about, say so. Ask for some pointers. Likewise, if you're unclear on what it is you're meant to be doing or the rationale behind it then ask. I must admit, when I was younger and less confident in my own abilities I was less assertive. I would sometimes not ask a question for fear of looking like an idiot. I learnt very quickly that if you ask a question immediately you might look like a slight idiot for 30 seconds (then it's forgotten), but if you don't ask that question and make an incorrect assumption and stuff something up completely you look like a complete idiot, and that's where you risk getting fired or other serious consequences. It shouldn't take long to learn to ask questions early to avoid these problems, yet so few people do it. The young are particularly bad for it, but a lot of older people do the same. This behaviour is surrounded by other similar behaviours - stopping working on the task because you hit a hurdle, waiting for the task delegator to ask you for a progress report, or sometimes sillier games like pretending you never got the email asking you to do it. It's such a head-in-the-sand approach, and it makes you look like a fool.

gechurch
gechurch

That's the point of the list. If you are struggling to be rationale, this is a recipe to follow (complete with the "go for a walk" step to help clear your head) to force yourself to deal with the issue rationally. I know I've been there - thinking something is a huge problem and not being able to get my head around the issue. I find writing down the pros and cons and numbering them similar to the way the author proposes is a great way to deal with the issue. And it's funny - when I do list the pros and cons and quantify them, I normally find that the list of pros is long, and the list of cons has one big main entry - that the task of actually having the conversation is a really unpleasant one! Kudos to the author for not just stating the problem, but for providing a way to deal with it when it arises.

smoran
smoran

I can Appreciate your prospective, and you are correct when we are in the middle of crisis is not easy or almost impossible to act rational. What I read was that most of the time this are not single events where you have to make the choice immediately, most of the this cases are chronic cases, where the offender has done several times or for a long period. The person in need of confronting the offender can take the time to calm his/her self and do the exercise, perhaps even enlist the help of someone they respect or a coach. Like any other cognitive technique it takes practice to get good at it, just because you read it or hear about does not mean you can use it Effectible and at will. If you start integrating this technique today in five years from now, it will be second nature to you; and you will be asking yourself how come is so difficult for others to do it, when it is so simple. Are you willing to pay the price to integrate this and/or any other practice into your daily life? Only you can answer that. Good Luck

cherisil
cherisil

I found this suggestion very interesting. You can use it as a tool and have it ready in the event you start getting anxious or have to deal with something that you really don't want to. It might not work for all situations but its always good to have some back up tools in the kit that you may fall back on. Anytime you get the time to breathe and consider options before taking action is positive. Good luck!