Here is a real life scenario: A local company is experiencing
organizational changes. However, the line of communication is
bypassing frontline supervisors, whose employees seem to know more
about what's going on than they do. The result is a deteriorating
relationship between upper management, frontline supervisors, and
This is a symptom of a broken or undeveloped relationship with the
supervisor, coupled with inappropriate communication by upper
management. If not addressed quickly and appropriately, the
organization will experience a continued deterioration of trust. In
this scenario, the best course of action is for the frontline
supervisor to put ego and emotion aside and have an honest
discussion with management about the consequences of this
Most of us have seen it happen. Big changes come quickly, but the
relevant and necessary information that will ease the transition is
nonexistent. Worse, the information that is flowing, is
coming from the wrong people, going to the wrong people, and moving
through all the wrong channels.
The bigger issue is an example of what author Stephen Covey calls
principle-centered leadership. In the case of the
information-withholding senior manager, he or she may have been so
focused on the mounting tasks that, in the name of expediency, he
or she cut out the frontline supervisor.
Such fix-what-is-on-fire thinking promotes going from crisis to
crisis. Even worse, ego may be at stake. If the frontline
supervisor does not have reliable, firsthand information from
senior management, he or she may not want to look out of the loop.
Stonewalling allows the supervisor to save face.
Covey suggests an alternative. He asks managers to risk their egos
and status. He dares them to trust their people enough to share
information, provide templates instead of instructions, and use
real-life problems as teachable moments that can show subordinates
how to make valid, independent judgments. The ability to trust
subordinates to make quality decisions is one factor that
differentiates a principle-centered leader from the traditional
egocentric, hierarchical manager.
Covey readily acknowledges that trust, which requires sharing
information and often acknowledging a lack of information, is a
risky business. Trust recognizes and uses complementary skills
without being afraid someone else will steal your thunder. It
treats employees the way people should be treated and helps them
Principle-centered managers know that long-term consequences can
outweigh the short-term benefits. They trust enough to ask for
feedback from all stakeholders.
Principle-centered managers share values, not just information.
They impart replicable templates for decision making, not
rule-driven, inflexible checklists. They value diversity because
they know information is better analyzed and synthesized from more
than one vantage point. They seek win-win situations. Instead of
hoarding information to gain power, they seek synergy from the
highly talented people they have not been too ego-threatened to
hire. Most important, they never get too busy to forget a
fundamental respect for the people around them. While initial
problem solving may involve more work from the principle-centered
manager, the downstream advantages can produce radical
Because they have built up trust, principle-centered managers
likely get more honest information. Staff with problem-solving and
decision-making skills take many problems off the back of the
manager. Problems are handled when they are smaller rather than
having time to grow as they pass up through the chain of command.
Stakeholders feel respected and work with the company during
troubled times. The manager achieves better outcomes and resolves
problems more effectively while gaining a team of advisers,
reducing stress and workload, all for the price of jettisoning ego
and embracing principles that go beyond putting out today's fire.