Do you know what a filibuster is? A filibuster is a congressional tactic where a senator can basically talk for as long as possible to try to either get people to change their position on a subject or hold up voting on a measure. The longest filibuster in history was around 30 hours; that’s pretty impressive.

criticism
Moses, Ivan Mestrovic
Syracuse University

Sometimes it works because the senators don’t need a lot of people to change their minds. They don’t always work, but sometimes they will make someone else think more about their position.

Since we view elected politicians as leaders of our government, the tactic bares looking into from a leadership perspective. Whereas something like this might not hold water in a corporate boardroom or even a meeting of directors, something similar does happen occasionally.

I remember being in a meeting some years ago where the CFO went on an hour filibuster of his own, which kept all of us sitting there waiting to move onto the next topic. The problem with his filibuster is that there was no substance to it.

I had given him some new that he didn’t want to hear, which was proof of something I’d told him a month earlier, and instead of just embracing it he decided to go on a minor rant on how he needs good information and had always needed good information, and how no one had ever given him this information before, even though I’d given him the same information the previous month. In the end, since I’m a consultant it meant nothing to me and the other consultant in the room, but did prove to me why the permanent employees were afraid to ever tell him anything.

If leaders aren’t willing to allow people to deliver news they may not like, they’re never going to hear it, won’t know what’s going on, and there will never be a process which leads to things geting better. You can’t fix what you won’t acknowledge (a Dr. Phil-ism), and in business that’s a strategy that leads to failure. Actually, in one’s personal life it can also lead to failure; how many things will kids withhold from their parents for fear of how their parents might react?

I’ve written a couple of blog posts on the topic of criticism. One post was how “not” to criticize someone; the other was how to ask for criticism, aka advice. I even did a video on the subject:


https://youtu.be/7lk-hK2HQmg

The problem is that sometimes it’s hard to accept whatever the facts happen to be. If someone presents a financial report that shows the company is losing $1,000 a month, all the ranting in the world won’t change that fact. Criticism is always subjective; facts aren’t. We see it all the time lately as it pertains to politics; yell loud and often enough and the truth gets muddled, even when it’s the truth.

That doesn’t work as well in business. Leaders can only hide from the truth for so long before things start to crumble, and unless you’re the owner of the company you won’t have your job for long; if you’re the owner you might not have your business all that long either.

If you wonder why people won’t come to you with problems that eventually pop up you should consider whether your behavior is keeping people from letting you know what’s going on. As a leader, it’s your job to know what the problems are so you can fix them. Never fear problems; fear not knowing what they are instead.

Don’t snap the head off the messenger. Thank them for bringing it to your attention, then do your job and fix it.
 

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