“Well, maybe we just ignore the first round of emails,” I half-joked. “That should reduce the amount we have to deal with by half. And then we can just say we’re booked up.”
After a few seconds of what I can only assume was stunned silence by my suggestion, Kate and Nancy responded.
“Um, I’m not sure that’s the best way to handle it,” Kate said.
“Yeah, I agree,” said Nancy, “that’s not really reflective of who we are. Let’s just tell them the truth.”
The truth? Interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. It just might work.
We were discussing how to deal with the dozens upon dozens of vendor-briefing requests we receive every year in the lead-up to the annual HIMSS conference. Because our editorial guidelines (almost without exception) prohibit us from interviewing anyone other than hospital and health system CIOs, we cannot do anything with the information gleaned from such briefings anyway. And while we may have made the marketing or PR rep happy by taking the meeting, what they want to know after it takes place is just when and where the write up about it will appear. We understand and appreciate their position, but since it won’t appear anywhere on our site, are we doing them any favors by taking the meetings in the first place?
We tried making everyone happy last year by holding a “Meet & Greet” where we could efficiently accept all requests to see us by getting everyone together during a two-hour window. But while this went relatively well, it was quite stressful (we didn’t have a private room booked so had to select a promising venue and hope for the best) and expensive.
This year, again, we struggled with deciding how to respond to the meeting requests. Would we do the Meet & Greet? No. Would we take meetings? No. Well, how to answer the requests? Above, you see my uber-lame and principle-devoid suggestion — Winston Churchill, in that moment, I was not.
But that is not the lesson here. The lesson is that, first of all, you and I are not Winston Churchill though, hopefully, we are not Neville Chamberlain either. You and I are somewhere in the muddled middle — pretty decent on most days, but eminently capable of dropping a doozy like my suggestion above. What saves us, if we have created an atmosphere not of fear, but open dialogue, are the great staff members we’ve assembled around us. And on this day, as with most others, Kate and Nancy were able to keep me from going down a slippery slope to the leadership hall of infamy.
Does your staff feel comfortable telling you they disagree? Remember, what you think about their willingness to do so — especially in this case — and what is real may be quite different. It is perhaps worth partnering with HR to get some anonymous feedback from your team to really, really make sure they are willing to — respectfully and constructively — tell you what they think. And fear not, this doesn’t put your ability to lead in jeopardy — you still get to make the final call. But it will be so much the stronger if it’s been tested by a few body blows. My idea immediately went down for the count.
Getting your way all the time may seem like a good thing; it may feel like you’re really running the show, but that feeling is something you should fear rather than cherish. It’s important to remember that you’re not perfect, and the only thing between you and the occasional disaster is the goodwill of your team — goodwill created when they know you don’t always have to be right.
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