Avoid the Boil Over


There are those in leadership positions who embrace the philosophy, “If you aren’t making someone unhappy, you’re not doing your job right.” In some cases, this may be true. I maintain that good law enforcement and military, for example, should make criminals and terrorists unhappy.

How many of us, though, are in fields that produce, or even require, clear adversaries? Overwhelmingly, we need more friends than enemies, and more supporters than detractors.

Leaders who adopt the adversarial posture likely do so because they are too lazy to communicate the “whys” of their decisions to stakeholders such as employees, customers, donors, volunteers, and the like. An additional, and more troubling, explanation is that they believe their decisions are draped in gold and free of error and therefore should never be questioned.

Recently I had this lesson brought home, literally. Late Friday afternoon I saw this message taped to the lobby door of my condo community, (sans handwritten comments):


Making preparations for the problem was a little difficult because, at this point, the hot water already had been turned off.

The management company and condo board had a few hundred people with many questions and no answers. The quote: “Some people in the world don’t even have water,” apparently came from a member of the condo board no doubt approached by a concerned resident.

Leadership Tip #1:  It is poor salesmanship to deflect your responsibility by attempting to make a stakeholder’s concern seem petty. In our community, hot water is a reasonable expectation. It is the responsibility of the management company and condo board to ensure this service.

An additional comment was penned: “Plumbers work weekends.” Excellent point.

Leadership Tip #2:  Anticipate questions; provide answers before asked. The absence of explanation on why repairs couldn’t be done Friday and Saturday creates an environment of speculation. Residents are invited to assume the worst. In this case:

  • The problem was so complex and/or discovered so late in the business day that the management company and/or plumber chose not to address it immediately because it posed a personal inconvenience.
  • Rather than taking the time to price a weekend project with the usual plumber, or locate another company for an estimate, the management company informed the condo board, or select members, that the cost was prohibitive or that finding an alternative company was “impossible.”
  • The condo board, or select members, were more concerned with maintaining a positive relationship with the management company than pressing the issue as advocates for their neighbors.

The lack of anything more than a brief note tacked up a few places in the building (residents were not given printed notices individually) communicates an absence of concern, even basic respect, for stakeholders.

Leadership Tip #3:  Always attempt face-to-face/voice-to-voice communications first. The condo board exists as liaison between residents and the management company. As the most basic of responsibilities, board members should be expected to contact residents on matters such as a sudden loss of utilities. In this case, a meeting in the common area of each building should have been scheduled immediately for anyone who happened to be home at the time. The meeting should have been communicated via door-to-door visits/notices.

Leadership Tip #4:  Make a compelling case for your actions and in the process you recruit your stakeholders to assist you in communicating the news. The absence of information and personal communication sends the message to stakeholders that the actions (or inaction) of leadership cannot stand up to scrutiny. Again, in this case, speculation of the specter of personal inconvenience raises its ugly head: The plumber didn’t want to work on the weekend; the management company didn’t want to find an alternate company; the board didn’t want to authorize the expense, inform residents, or jeopardize a positive relationship with the management company.

In this case, the management company and condo board hold nearly all the cards. Residents pay a monthly fee to cover shared services and cede a portion of their responsibilities as homeowners regarding said services. The condo board is a volunteer, and mostly thankless, position. Any resident, myself included, has an opportunity to run for election.

Residents do hold a few cards, though. The company and board loses credibility, respect, trust, and possibly, the cooperation of their primary stakeholder. In the long run, mishandling this incident makes it more difficult for them to do their jobs, and creates an adversary where one was not required.

Does your small business or non-profit need some help communicating with stakeholders? If so, please give me a call. I’d love to help.


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