On cover-ups, hiding and protectionism

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I had a conversation with a colleague at work today about the leadership and management in my current workplace. To cut a long story short, she admitted that she “hid” the inadequacies of her manager from others in the workplace. She did this because she was concerned about the perceptions others had of him, and the damage these perceptions could have caused to the unit he managed, which was new and had yet to make its mark.

While I understand her motives (it’s primarily about her career and sustaining her role in the organisation and continuing to do work she enjoys), let me say that her thinking was and is flawed. Being dishonest – regardless of the motive – is a strategy that is doomed to fail. And it made me quite angry, because this sort of protectionism has repercussions which ripple outward and affect more than the few involved in the cover-up.

For a start, this sort of cover-up cannot be sustained. Someone, somewhere will find out. Someone will notice that this manager isn’t quite up to scratch, can’t deliver the goods, or makes promises that can’t be fulfilled. This may be another manager or even his superior, or it may be someone who works under the inadequate leader. Either way, it’s an an unsustainable situation because other people always find out.

And it delays the inevitable. This manager may have been saved. He could have received the help he needed to improve. It could have been mentoring, or another learning or self-improvement activity supported by the workplace. Instead, hiding him merely perpetuates the fiction where he believes that he’s fine. He’s had 3, 4, 6 years in the job. Who’s going to tell him now that he stinks? Too much time has passed. And the other people he manages continue to suffer. The work that is supposed to happen does not get done as productivity drops. The brand of the workgroup, and also organisation is damaged, often irreparably. See? Ripple effects.

So I think I was right to be appalled and angry, but it says so much about the culture of the organisation for which I work (and will be leaving for greener pastures in the New Year). This is a culture where poor management practices are allowed to perpetuate, where accountability from managers is non-existent, where poor work practices are neither ignored nor examined, where subordinates are silenced, and where power structures are hierarchical rather than practical. Where new ideas or ways of working are not allowed to “fail” because there’s too much at stake.

From Learning and Development perspective (the job I was hired to do), working with this sort of culture is a hard ask.

No wonder I’m exhausted.


Did this post resonate with you?

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