The annual meeting to discuss the latest engagement scores was held by Sarah, with about typical results. Some scores went up, some went down, and some stayed the same. That wasn’t news. As any employee who had watched this dance for several years knew, the focus of the meeting, and the major entertainment, was how the scores would be spun. This year was no different in that aspect.
You had to listen more closely this year for the entertainment, however, as it was subtle, but it was there. It wasn’t in what was said about why the scores were what they were, but in the different explanations for the scores. For any scores that were good, or had shown improvement, Sarah and her supporters immediately complimented each other on how well ‘the department’ did. However, for any scores that had shown a decline, the story was quite different. For each one of those, the explanation was that ‘the company’s’ scores on these areas must be represented by the data, not the department’s. In other words, any poor scores were not reflective of the department, but rather that the company’s poor scores were dragging that number down. Thus, it was not the department’s fault the numbers were low. They could then be blithely ignored and have no concerns whatsoever given to them.
This see-saw effect happened throughout the meeting. It was obvious that any good scores were reflective of the department, and that any bad scores were the result of everyone else dragging down what would have been stellar numbers for the department. This flexible interpretation made Sarah and her supporters feel good and walk out of the meeting assured that they were doing a wonderful job.
There is an old saying that success has many parents, but failure is an orphan. In this case, failure did have a parent, but it turned out to be dubious lineage. Sarah and her supporters didn’t know who the parent was, but it was obvious it wasn’t them. This finger pointing would allow them to escape any critical review of themselves for another year.
A good leader is one who accepts both the good and the bad news. That leader than engages in critical reflection of that bad news and why it happened, and what can be done to turn it around. That leader does not push it to the side, blaming everyone else for it, but uses it to grow. The result is a better leader and a better situation for those they lead.
If the only mental exercise you get is to figure out a way to blame others for your own bad news, then I congratulate you. You are a master of the spin.
I cannot congratulate you for being a good leader, though, for you have a long way to go before that title is bestowed upon you.