HOW TO NAVIGATE THE WHISPERS

by Matt Thomas

Every leader with a modicum of self-awareness has been there. The wheels aren’t coming off, yet, but things are not going nearly as smooth as you’d like. You walk into the office and there is a nervous energy, eye contact is fleeting, and in your one-on-ones with your managers you can hear it in their voice. Is everything going to be okay?

When revenue goals are getting shattered and customer satisfaction is through the roof they call you a hero, and rightly, it feels pretty good. There’s nothing quite like an idea getting legs and transforming into a living, breathing, profitable organism. It’s the rush that every entrepreneur I know lives for. But what about the 90% of organizations out there struggling to make payroll and staring down another pivot or die scenario? Most organizations have to consistently reinvent themselves in order to keep up with a new influx of competition, market constraints, and more.

Even the healthiest organizations experience this scenario at one point or another. Call it a dip, a stall, a bump in the road, whatever–it’s coming. And when it comes, there will be people in your organization who question your leadership. So begin the whispers.

Even the healthiest organizations experience this scenario at one point or another. Call it a dip, a stall, a bump in the road, whatever–it’s coming.

Much like the quarterback of an NFL team the leader of an organization gets all the credit when things are going well and all the blame when things are going terribly. It’s part of the deal and if it’s not what you signed up for, there are plenty of companies who would love to add you to their middle management layer. When things are not going well, your people are going to talk, and your character and competency will likely be called into question. Can you handle it?

My mentor has told me there are two types of gossips. The first openly and brazenly will say whatever negative thing comes to mind about another person whenever they feel like it. Whether their perspective is accurate or not doesn’t really matter as these people usually discredit themselves with their carelessness. The second is more dangerous and harder to identify. These gossips are masters at planting seeds of doubt. They won’t blatantly accuse someone of incompetence, but they will quietly and consistently call a leader’s character and competence into question. This kind of venom spreads through whispers and casual conversations and it’s as toxic as nuclear waste. These gossips manage to stay above the fray because they never actually slander anyone directly, they just create a nice easy path for imaginations to take a stroll. If things aren’t going well in your organization you can bet these folks are working their “magic”. So how do we navigate the whispers?

These gossips manage to stay above the fray because they never actually slander anyone directly, they just create a nice easy path for imaginations to take a stroll.

Be as transparent as you possibly can be.

When things are off, everyone can feel it, but when imaginations are left to run wild, panic can ensue prematurely. Shoot your people straight every chance you get (for what it’s worth, with clear goals, performance expectations, and metrics, ambiguity is hard to come by). Be crystal clear about where things have gone haywire, how you got there in your estimation, and what you plan to do about it. People always appreciate honesty. It’s become a lost art in leadership.

Open up the door.

The quickest and most surefire way to head off the whispers is to practice an open door policy. If people are concerned, encourage them to come to you (or to their managers) and voice their concerns in detail. Gossip fills the gap where clear communication is lacking.

Remember who you are.

If you lead an organization that your mama or daddy didn’t start then remember how you got there. You didn’t win the lottery, you earned the right to sit in that seat. You’re not perfect, but you don’t have to be. You have limitations just like everyone else but you’ve got that extra gear that most people don’t, so dig in and get back to what you’re good at.

Do the next right thing.

It’s a simple mantra that I was turned onto later in life. When we’ve messed up, misstepped, or something outside of our control is creating problems, do the next right thing. Get your head clear and make one good decision at a time. The most effective way to quiet the whispers is to walk confidently, with integrity, in the right direction. Don’t do something you’ll have to apologize for later.

When we’ve messed up, misstepped, or something outside of our control is creating problems, do the next right thing. Get your head clear and make one good decision at a time.

Recently in a one-on-one with my Recruiting Manager, we were reviewing the qualities we are looking for in Staffing Consultants. I told her that self-awareness should be at the top of the list. I want people who know who they are–confident, high EQ team members, who don’t get rattled when things aren’t going well. Their identity isn’t under attack when the going gets tough. If you are a leader, you must practice the discipline of remembering who you are. That way, when things get shaky, you can walk in confidence, make decisions with a clear head, and model the stability your people need to see in order to move past the current inflection point. The truth is that difficult seasons usually propel us into fruitful seasons. Hang in there and go get ‘em.