Manage episode 354825581 series 1283444
There are lots of secrets for leaders. They attend the executive meetings, the off-sites, the briefings from the big bosses and know what is going on before anyone else. Divulging top secret corporate moves will get you fired, so leaders are usually tight-lipped about coming transformations, changes, expansions, downsizing etc. This is fairly obvious and everyone knows where the boundaries are located regarding what you can and cannot say. What about more personal matters though?
Japan is a place where a secret is a precious thing. Living cheek-by-jowl for centuries in small villages or packed together in urban concentrations, often with concrete walls which seem paper thin, keeping a secret is no mean task. Like most cases for small cities around the world, everyone seems to know everyone else’s business. Sometimes I am taken by surprise. Suddenly one of my staff will tell me that they have gotten married or that they have had a child. Until the deed is done, Japanese are pretty silent about what is going on, in case something goes wrong and they would lose face.
What about the boss though? How much should the boss be prepared to share what is going on in their private life? When I was growing up in Brisbane the answer was simple – you shared nothing! Work and non-work were completely separate universes and there was a big wall keeping them apart. You were expected to handle whatever was going on in your private life and turn up and turn out the work – no excuses.
Today, things are different and staff are more likely to want to blur the boundary between private and work. They are expecting to be cut some slack, to be granted some margin, to accommodate their private travails in the workplace. Japanese are living longer, so parents are still around and getting frail and needing medical care and assistance from their children. The idea that this has nothing to do with the company is now a strange idea and bosses are expected to be supportive and flexible. But what about the boss -where do they fit into this new world?
Usually, the private items which may move into the public domain will be ill health or divorce or re-marriage. These three biggies are not for broad public consumption. Clients don’t need to know the boss’s health issues or marital arrangements, unless they have become friends or the relationship is very close. However how much should the boss tell the team? There can be a fear that telling staff about the boss’s weaknesses will undermine their authority. There is also the fear that nobody particularly cares about the boss’s issues, because they have an abundance of their own issues and don’t really want to know about what is going on. There is also the aspect that bosses are totally replaceable. If you have to disappear, or fall of the perch, then the machine will spit out a replacement and life continues.
In the case of company owners though there is a different calculation. If the boss disappears, the company may disappear too and everyone is out of a job. So is the boss wise to keep everything a secret, deal with their health issues privately and just carry on as if nothing is amiss? We are in the era of more compliance and greater transparency, so how does this impact boss choices?
I believe in being transparent with my teams. I wasn’t always so minded though and for a long time I kept everything under wraps and would not let anyone know what was going on with the financials in the business. I changed that mindset a number of years ago and now everyone knows exactly where we are financially, in real time. Did making the change create a queue of people lined up outside my door demanding more money? No, I found everyone understood the health of the company and were professional in their expectations.
Applying that same transparency logic, I am prepared to share serious health issues with the team. Their lives are tied up in the company and they have a right to know about things which may impinge on that stability. If you are going to disappear into hospital for week or more and need to recover at home for some weeks after that, it is pretty hard to shield that information from the team and people are not stupid.
Yes, the “ironman or ironwoman” image may be revealed to have feet of clay, but so what? The era of the hero leader has been replaced with the total power of the team and if the whole thing revolves around one person, then we have a serious problem with the way the business is being run.
What about things like getting divorced? Is that for public consumption? Will that be something you can keep secret forever? It isn't really possible though is it. The word will get out for sure. There is also the issue of changes in your demeanour and mood. Breakups are highly emotional turning points for bosses, especially if there are children involved. This can lead directly to impacting how we interact with the team. They will notice something is wrong, because we have changed. We don't have to try and get them to take our side in the dispute or to justify what we have decided to do, but we should explain that this is happening and that for a period the boss won’t be their same old predictable self. The team are likely to be more understanding to mood swings or depression in the boss, if they know why.
The boss doesn’t have a road map with this stuff, because society and work are changing and every day is a new day, where a different path may need to be trod. The point is to think about your approach or strategy to these issues, before it happens, rather than being caught on the back foot and being forced to react to changes. Not having a solid plan of action isn’t how we run companies and these issues are now part of the planning process.