A bossy scenario

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The scenario: Your boss (“Brad”) assigns you to lead a solution design team. The team’s purpose is to perform an opportunity analysis for creating an augmented reality app that leapfrogs competitors’ YouTube DIY product support.

The result: Your analysis shows the opportunity is large. Not so much for the app itself, which would be profitable but not earthshattering. But the potential profits to be had from licensing the libraries and other IP that would have to be created to make the AR app real would be enormous.

Pleased with the business case and plan you and your team have put together, you (that’s the plural “you”) present your findings to Brad, who agrees you should submit it to the Innovations Governance Committee at its next monthly meeting.

Which you do. Brad introduces you, your team, and the subject. You begin walking the IGC through your presentation. In the middle of slide #4, Brad clears his throat and says, “I’m not really sure this is a good idea. If you want us to pursue it in more detail we’ll be happy to do so. Otherwise we’ll pull the plug on it.”

Leaving you with your bare face hanging out and without even the semblance of a hint as to what just happened.

What you should do: One school of thought says you should always support and never embarrass your boss. You mumble, “Thanks for your time,” to the committee members, exit the room, and take advantage of Brad’s open door policy to suggest that the same school of thought applies in reverse – embarrassing you in front of the committee damaged both of your standings with its members.

A different school of thought begins thusly: You can say anything you want, to anyone you want, but not any way you want. So after Brad has finished cutting you off at the knees you don’t say, “WTF!?!?”

But you also don’t just bite your tongue. You apply your prodigious diplomatic skills to the situation and say, “Before we wrap up, it might be worthwhile to take just a quick look at slide 26. That’s the money slide. I’m not disagreeing with Brad. There’s plenty of risk if we pursue this. But I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t give you some context regarding the opportunity’s potential.”

Later, after you’ve cooled off, you take advantage of the aforementioned open-door policy.

After that you carefully evaluate if you want to continue reporting to Brad, or whether the odds of other pastures being greener are better than 50/50.

The world according to Brad: While you’re presenting, Brad is reading the room, and doesn’t like what he sees.

Especially, over the years Brad has become adept at reading the CFO, who looks like they’re about to jump out of their skin, probably because much of the estimated ROI is speculative.

Which is why Brad decides that, embarrassing as it might be, cutting his losses, and yours, is the least of the possible evils.

What Brad should have done: Assume Brad has read the room … and CFO … right.

Brad had two right ways to handle the situation. He chose neither of them.

The first right alternative was to soldier on. It isn’t up to Brad to make the committee’s decision for it. Brad’s responsibility is to give the committee important information it can use to make up its own collective mind.

The second was to offer to abridge. “Before we continue, we have quite a bit of ground to cover to be thorough. Would it make more sense for us to skip to the money slide and then cover the rest through Q&A?”

Bob’s last word: Managers delegate responsibility. They don’t delegate accountability. They share it.

So in a situation like this one, having the project manager present was the right decision. Before that, working together to create the presentation was also the right decision.

Trying to duck accountability because someone didn’t seem to like what the two of you have concluded? I can’t speak to the return on investment.

But I’m pretty sure everyone involved would agree that it showed no class.

Now on CIO.com:7 tools for mastering organizational listening.” If you aren’t familiar with the concept, read the article for an overview, and Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World, Chapter 9, for in-depth understanding.

.Because I have to: Some policy makers are recommending that limiting school access to a single lockable door would be an effective way to reduce school shooting deaths. Without commenting on this approach’s potential efficacy, there’s a point I haven’t read anywhere that deserves attention. It’s that even if this change in school design worked as intended, its impact in the event of a fire would be lethal.

Comments (12)

  • Like you, without commenting on the door policy’s potential efficacy, what I *understood* the policy to be was “only one way in, but multiple ways out” – that is, multiple doors, but most unopenable from outside. That doesn’t solve the issue of someone opening one of those doors from the inside and propping it open – which gets back to the efficacy question – but I think it addresses the fire issue. Plenty of hotels, for instance, have doors into stairwells (for fire exits) that are locked from the outside but can be opened via a pushbar from inside.

    • Thanks for clarifying the intent. I’ve read quite a few of the proponents and hadn’t heard any of them say a thing about multiple doors.

      It does seem to me that if there’s a locked door, and a gunman with an AR-15, the lock won’t last very long.

  • Yes, I know the last paragraph wasn’t the point of the column. I also know from years of reading that you and I will be nigh-unto-diametrically opposed on many points revolving around this issue. But your point about fire safety is 100% correct. You can’t even build a /prison/ with only one way in or out and make it meet the building code. School buildings in particular have to have multiple exits.

  • As Kevin said, think of hotel doors into stairwells, you open from the inside with a push bar, no access from the outside. And of course you and Chad are correct, you NEED multiple exit doors.

    As for using an AR to destroy the lock; in competition we have strict stage design standards which include minimum distances that steel targets can be shot at due to safety concerns – bullets richochet and spall when they hit steel. The destruction of a lock(s) via firearm that you see in the movies is mostly nonsense.

    You might, and I say, might breach that door with a shotgun slug, (that’s what breaching guns are designed for and used by tactical teams), but you’re far better off with a Haliburton tool or jaws of life – neither of which is likely to be carried by a single insane shooter.

    As Chad said, but less eloquently, I’ve been reading your columns for years, you bring a lot of incisive, interesting points up for me to learn from and think about. We are however, like much of the country, diametrically opposed on “gun control”.

    A long time ago, and I believe it was in one of your columns – I read, (and I paraphrase), “once you stop discussing and begin arguing, it’s no longer important to solve the issue, it’s only about winning the argument”.

    That’s where we are with “gun control”.

    Best regards.

  • Brad is a crappy boss and just did you an enormous favor by showing you that fact. Actually he showed everyone else in the meeting that fact. It also which means they are going to be leery about dealing with him in the future.

    Clean up your LinkedIn account and start looking for another job (with a better boss). You won’t regret it. Conversely word will get around and the next person who works for Brad will be savvier about dealing with him.

    BTW it’s a lot harder to shoot a locked door open with a gun that is shown on TV. An AR-15 probably won’t do it (depending of course on the specific door type). Most of the time you’ll need a breaching round in a shotgun (see details at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breaching_round).

    My $0.02 ..

  • There are a lot of Brad’s out there and they forget one very important thing. They need to continue to develop talent and that includes allowing people to trip, dust themselves off, and try again.

    The longer I have worked the lack of allowing mistakes bothers me more and more. Ditto for the fake open door policy. Leaders need to get over themselves – well actually they are behaving like managers, as in micro.

    It is brutal to work for someone that you are constantly reading the tea leaves for and staring at every twitch to read them. Eventually people stop taking risks and you become just another business.

    The next brilliant idea is out there and most likely it isn’t yours. Encourage others to take risks – you will grow some incredible talent. Even if the risk doesn’t pay, everyone learns. The committee that Brad presented to could mentor those who did the presentation instead of kicking it to the curb.

    This is very fresh to me as I interviewed a prospective leader yesterday. I could tell he was in a tough environment where he has learned to read rooms and be political in approaching his boss. This person was an incredible talent just waiting to be unleashed.

  • Schools should take a layered approach to buildings similar to IT taking a layered approach to networks security. There should be at least 3 doors an intruder would have to breach before being inside a classroom. An outer perimeter, an inner perimeter, and classroom doors. While having three sets of doors may not stop someone, it will certainly slow them down and make it more challenging.

    The approach is good building design for security and fire containment as well. Security camera systems are fairly inexpensive and should be inside and outside the outer and inner perimeters.

    I think the more that security and safety can be incorporated into the design, the better. While it is also good to have resource officers, “dads on duty”, and other people to provide hands on tactical control – situations happen and they may not always be where they can do the most good.

  • Geez, look at how expertly advocates for allowing broad access to high-powered killing machines have made the argument about the best way to secure schools from these military-grade weapons. Are we to do the same with summer camps? Restaurants? Government offices? Beaches? Supermarkets? Workplaces? Theaters? Every public venue?

    Let’s face it. America is willing to pay the price of quite a few dead kids (and adults) so we can all have our AK-15s and such. Sorry, families. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thoughts and prayers.

    • AK-15s?
      You obviously SHOULD leave it to the experts.

      • Keeping in mind, of course, that among the experts is a member of the House of Representatives who thinks private citizens need these weapons to protect us from the gazpacho police.

      • If knowing the difference between an AK-47 and an AR-15 were crucial to observing whether we’re willing to willing to let kids die so that we could have them, you’d be correct.

        My point doesn’t hinge on the distinction.

  • Bob, I think you nailed it with advising to carefully evaluate the merits and downside of continuing in this relationship with Brad compared to the opportunities and risks of doing something else.

    Brad is a flawed human being. Who among us has always nailed it in our leadership? This is a growth opportunity for Brad if he’s open to it.

    If you have a conversation with Brad about what happened, its effect on you, and what you want from him as your boss, his response can inform you as to whether Brad might embrace the opportunity to grow as a leader, or if it’s in your best interest to get away.

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