Recently met with Allison, a quite accomplished woman. Since graduating college twenty years ago, she has had a phenomenal career working for a series of very successful organizations before taking her current position as the Executive Vice-President/Chief Operations Officer for a privately held company. Over lunch she shared with me some of her challenges.
A topic in particular struck a nerve and I believe it is worthy of a blog post. Allison told me that her office is within earshot of her CEO’s office and he regularly talks about employees when they aren’t around. And not just a little bit and not quietly. He does it all the time and says some pretty rotten stuff about people in the company who aren’t there to defend themselves. It’s so bad that Allison often works with earbuds in, listening to music or with her door closed.
Years ago, I worked for a guy named Mike who taught me a lot about being a good manager. One thing he absolutely, positively would not allow was for someone on our team to talk about a team member when they were not present. He was totally hardcore about this and would shut you down if you attempted to do so. So nobody did it. And, we all knew this unwritten team rule.
Consider another example: A friend had a coworker who regularly talked about people in their workgroup. She knew this because she often interacted with this guy. My friend’s position changed so she had much less contact with the coworker and before long she began to suspect he probably now spent a lot of time talking about her!
If you are a supervisor or a manager who talks about your employees, people notice and it often makes them uncomfortable. They may wonder what you say about them when they aren’t around. But, because you are in a position of authority, it is unlikely anyone will call you on it.
During World War II, the phrase “Loose Lips Might Sink Ships” was coined by the US Office of War Information as part of their effort to limit the possibility of people accidentally giving useful information to enemy spies. How about an update to this slogan for 21st century managers and supervisors – “Loose Lips Damage Relationships”? For a manager or supervisor hoping to get the most out of employees, a relationship built on a foundation of integrity and trust is key. If your employees suspect you’re talking about them when they aren’t present, integrity and trust can be compromised.
The basic ideas here – don’t talk about others and don’t gossip – are lessons we all learned as kids. Let’s just put them into practice as managers and adults.