Journal: People Science - Human Capital Management & Leadership in the public sector Volume 1, Issue 2 Spring/Summer 2014 - Page 22

MJ: It helps to be clear about the dark itself. There is dark and there is DARK and a leader needs to know the subtleties. board was beginning to shrink. Our COO sent a memo to the whole organization telling us all the ways we should cut costs, right down to the paperclips. It was a long memo and it wasn’t a joke. For a leader to fall back on that kind of detailed direction It’s a continuum. There are a lot of decisions that can be is crazy. Think of the stress that was present for him and made without complete information. A person can rely on then imagine the response the 80-20 rule of knowing from employees. We ignored enough to see the trend, the She said, “… every day, I drive to work and I think, is this a lot of it. People’s reaction direction, and the right thing the day that I’m going to learn about something that I was, “Don’t try to control to do. There is also history. don’t know is going on and I’m going to have to take the everything I do. If you push Many decisions are repetitive fall for it?” me like that, I’m going to decisions. Do we close the push back.” The memo had government because of the opposite effect from the one he intended. snow? This decision is never based on perfect information but there is a lot of previous experience to draw on. The The leader’s assertion of micro-control and the risks are known -- the cost of the closing, the disruption in organization’s reaction may create a doom loop in which work, the dangers of commuters being on the road, etc. the more the leader bears down on the organization, the more the organization responds by The painful issue for leaders, though, not responding. In fact, I’ve seen is about the risks they are facing situations where employees make that they don’t even know they are themselves invisible. They just facing. That is the darkest of the disappear. Or they become very, very dark. I had a conversation over parsimonious about what they share. dinner one night with an executive So leaders find themselves even who ran a huge organization that more bereft of information, and the required massive and risky decisions. loop continues. However, her worry was elsewhere. She said, “You know, Martha, every This is really important to day, I drive to work and I think, is this understand, that the more you try to the day that I’m going to learn about control the information, the more you something that I don’t know is going can actually dig yourself into a hole on and I’m going to have to take the and have less information. fall for it?’” She added, “it’s in my thoughts every single morning. It’s about the risks I don’t even know I’m taking.” PS: It makes sense in a circular way. It’s easy to see why resentment can build and information is choked. Martha Johnson, author and MJ: It’s one of many ways that Leaders live in a precarious and risky former GSA administrator information is choked before getting place where it is really dark. There is to a leader. There’s also the problem of structure. In a lot going on that they don’t know about and for which government, for example, the procurement process has you don’t even have a risk calculus. many rules and, in most cases when I was Administrator, I was deliberately excluded. PS: It sounds incredibly stressful. How do senior government executives deal with the stress of it and what For example, GSA was requesting bids for redevelopment are the ramifications and pitfalls if they don’t? work on the Old Post Office “...the more you try to control the information, the building on Pennsylvania Avenue. MJ: Yes, darkness can make a more you might dig yourself into a hole and have This is a building is historic and leader edgy. less information.” was underutilized. I was not involved in the procurement When a leader is in the dark, one process. The rules precluded that and, in addition, as a reaction is a power and control response. The leader may political appointee I needed to explicitly avoid asserting say to the organization, “I want to know more and I want influence over the procurement decision. you to tell me. I’m going to control this more. Brief me every hour.” When the decision had been made, I was briefed. That is when I learned that the award was being made to the I worked at a large company once when we were Trump organization. It was at a time when Donald Trump experiencing a lot of foreign competition and our order- 17