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领导需要“忠言”?  

2010-07-13 13:47:56|  分类: 团队领导 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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作者:英国《金融时报》专栏作家 蒂姆?哈福德

2010-03-04

 

我们有时会听到这样的劝告:“不要迁怒于送信的人。”由于很少有逻辑上的理由去迁怒于送信的人,这样的建议应该没有必要。但事实并非如此,因为坏消息令人不快,而且各机构发现,很难将这类消息传递给掌门人。

安德鲁?罗恩斯利(Andrew Rawnsley)对戈登?布朗(Gordon Brown)首相任期的描述受到了关注,据称,布朗骂人、对职员挥拳相向、抓住下属的衣领、用钢笔戳椅垫、并曾使他的顾问因为害怕被打而萎缩。如果这些描述是真的,我们会感到不安——但几乎不会有人觉得吃惊。位高权重的人有时的确会滥用自己的职权。

我不是特别担心布朗可能像野兽般凶残,但我担心,他会听不到好的建议。罗恩斯利描述了2007年下半年布朗放弃举行外界广泛预期的提前选举的灾难性决定。布朗的核心集团等到他走出会议室之后才同意,这个决定将是灾难性的。然而,当首相回来重新主持会议时,他们却没有表达出这层意思。“没有一个人表达了明确的观点。没有一个人想为该决定担责。”

这则佚事比任何唾沫飞溅的传言都更有意义。任何一位领导都需要坦诚的建议,而获得这类建议的最大障碍常常是领导人自身。即使是一位冷静、有教养的老板,也倾向于将老爱唱反调的人排挤出自己的核心圈子。认识到这一点,明智的下属将会尽一切可能避免发表批评意见,或传达糟糕的消息。

“如果你传达坏消息,你就是在削弱自己的权力,”卡斯商学院(Cass Business School)教授大卫?西姆斯(David Sims)表示。“以后,你的意见就更不可能得到倾听。”对于一些有抱负的下属而言,这种命运比遭到拳打的威胁更加糟糕。

一部新电视真人秀《卧底老板》(Undercover Boss)试图通过拍摄高管隐瞒真实身份深入“战壕”,了解老板与前线员工之间的不协调。该节目先于去年夏季在英国第四频道(Channel 4)播放,随后迁移至了美国。这是一个有趣的前提。

当老板必须披上一层外衣来了解其组织真正的运行情况时,麻烦便会接踵而至。弗里德里希?哈耶克(Friedrich Hayek)曾经指出的一个显而易见的观察就是,社会充满了局部知识,这些知识常常具有微妙特性,以及仅仅是瞬时的可利用性。这就是去中心化的市场过程往往运行良好的一个原因。当一个等级制度不得不存在时,哈耶克的洞察解释了,为何老板应该想要获取最底层运行情况的真实评估(他们得不到),以及下属应该乐于提供这些信息(他们并不这么做)。

对于所有组织而言,让事情变得更糟的是,每一层都在上演相同的故事。每一位中层经理是真相流向上层的又一个阻碍。明智的经理会努力让信息自由地流动,但许多人为求耳根清静更乐意加强阻碍。

阻碍沟通的后果可能是灾难性的。H?R?麦克马斯特(H.R. McMaster)对越战期间决策过程具有影响力的研究——《玩忽职守》(Dereliction of Duty)——充满了这样的案例。美国参谋长联席会议主席马克斯维尔?泰勒(Maxwell Taylor)警告会议成员,林登?约翰逊(Lyndon Johnson)总统不喜欢“意见不统一”。约翰逊的国防部长罗伯特?麦克纳马拉(Robert McNamara)辩称,如果各部门负责人向总统“表达不同的意见”,政府将会变得低效。并非是不服从,而仅仅是“表达不同意见”。约翰逊完全信任麦克纳马拉,并且过于依赖这个被他称赞为“敢干的家伙”的意见。由于听不到不同的意见,这位总统作出了一系列灾难性的决定。

越战与伊战之间的相似性与差异性均很明显。入侵伊拉克的最初决定以及头三年糟糕地进行这场战争是在这样一个环境中作出的:唐纳德?拉姆斯菲尔德(Donald Rumsfeld)及其在五角大楼的直接下属让表达不同意见极其困难。当陆军总参谋长埃里克?新关将军(General Eric Shinseki)在战争即将打响前主张,美国需要多得多的兵力时,他受到了指责。几个月后,他就退休了。另一位将军约翰?阿比扎伊德(John Abizaid)是中东专家。他警告称,“去复兴党化”将会产生事与愿违的效果,却被坚决且再三地告知,这是官方政策。拉姆斯菲尔德甚至不允许指挥官们使用“叛乱者”这个词。这种奥威尔主义做法使陆军军官们难以依靠合适的教义:反叛乱战略。

美军在伊拉克的战术最初是自下而上开始更正的。一位上校只是在违反了官方战略后,才稳定了泰勒阿费尔市(Tal Afar)的局势。他请求增援的要求,从未顺着指挥链,传到驻伊美军司令乔治?凯西将军(General George Casey)那里。不过,他还是继续执行,扭转了泰勒阿费尔市的战局。这位造反上校是谁?正是那位曾对越战决策过程自上而下功能失调进行详细研究的麦克马斯特。

大多数组织都无法依赖像麦克马斯特这样的人——堪称拥有“领导力失灵”博士学位的人。所以,企业会转而通过“360度”评估体系、通用电气(General Electric)杰克?韦尔奇(Jack Welch)提出的“群策群力”会议,或者匿名建议卡片,来鼓励自下而上的反馈意见。更古老的策略包括,规定一个讽谏者或者喜欢唱反调的人。

伊拉克战争另一个引人注目的教训是,最高层的改变可以创造奇迹。大卫?彼得雷乌斯将军(General David Petraeus)于2007年就任伊战指挥官,他正确倚赖了麦克马斯特等人重写战略。但彼得雷乌斯及其上司——拉姆斯菲尔德的继任罗伯特?盖茨(Robert Gates)拥有一个优势:即他们本来就不是作出那些糟糕决定的人。不是很多领导人有气量逆转自己的决定。

译者/董琴

 

listen to the bearers of bad news

Tim Harford 2010-03-04

 

We are sometimes admonished: “Don't shoot the messenger.” Since there is rarely a logical reason to shoot messengers, such advice should not be needed. But it is, because bad news hurts, and organisations find it difficult to deliver such news to the person in charge.

Andrew Rawnsley's account of Gordon Brown's premiership has received attention for its claims that Mr Brown was abusive and physically threatening to his staff, grabbing lapels, stabbing upholstery with his pen and causing his advisers to cower for fear of violence. If true, that is disturbing – but few people will have found it surprising. High-status men sometimes do abuse that status.

I am worried not so much that Mr Brown may be beastly, but that he is cutting himself off from good advice. Mr Rawnsley describes Mr Brown's fateful decision to pull back from a widely trailed snap election in late 2007. His inner circle waited until he was out of the room before agreeing that such a course would be disastrous. When the prime minister reconvened the meeting, however, this was not conveyed: “No one expressed a clear view. No one wanted responsibility for the decision.”

This is a more significant anecdote than any tale of flying spittle. Any leader needs frank advice, and the biggest obstacle to receiving it is often the leader himself. Even a polite and level-headed boss will be tempted to cut naysayers out of the loop. Knowing this, sensible juniors will avoid expressing criticism or grim tidings if at all possible.

“If you deliver bad news, you're disempowering yourself,” says Professor David Sims of Cass Business School. “You're less likely to be listened to in the future.” For some ambitious subordinates, this is a far worse fate than the threat of being thumped.

A new reality television show, Undercover Boss – which has migrated to the US after airing on Channel 4 last summer – tries to tap into the dissonance between bosses and front-line staff by filming as a senior executive works incognito in the trenches. It is a delicious premise.

When bosses must don a disguise to learn about how their organisations really work, trouble is in store. One of Friedrich Hayek's obvious-once-pointed-out observations is that society is full of local knowledge, often of a subtle nature and only fleetingly exploitable. That is one reason why decentralised market processes tend to work well. When a hierarchy has to exist, Hayek's insight is the reason why bosses should want to receive truthful assessments of what is going on the shop floor (they don't) and subordinates should be happy to provide them (they aren't).

What makes matters worse for any organisation is that the same dynamic is taking place at every level. Each middle manager is a fresh obstacle to the flow of truth up a hierarchy of wastebaskets. Sensible managers try to let information flow freely, but many are happy to reinforce the barricades for their own peace of mind.

The results of barriers to communication can be catastrophic. H.R. McMaster's influential study of decision-making during the Vietnam war, Dereliction of Duty, is packed with examples. The joint chiefs of staff were warned by their chairman, Maxwell Taylor, that Lyndon Johnson did not like “split advice”. Johnson's defence secretary, Robert McNamara, argued that government would be ineffective if department chiefs were to “express disagreement” with the president. Not disobey, but “express disagreement”. Johnson trusted McNamara implicitly and relied too heavily on the advice of a man he praised as a “can-do fellow”. Isolating himself from dissent, the president made a series of disastrous decisions.

Both the parallels and the contrasts between Vietnam and Iraq are striking. The initial decision to invade Iraq and the appalling prosecution of the war for the first three years were made in an atmosphere in which dissent was made extremely difficult by Donald Rumsfeld and his immediate subordinates at the Pentagon. When the army's chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, argued just before the war that many more troops would be necessary, he was rebuked. He retired a few months later. Another general, John Abizaid, was a Middle East expert. He warned that “de-Ba'athification” would backfire and was flatly and repeatedly told that it was official policy. Mr Rumsfeld would not even let his commanders use the word “insurgent”. This Orwellianism made it much harder for army officers to rely on the appropriate doctrine: a counter-insurgency strategy.

The tactics in Iraq were initially corrected from the bottom up. One colonel established stability in the city of Tal Afar only when he engaged in a rebellion against the official strategy. His requests for additional men never made it up the chain of command to the commander in Iraq, General George Casey. He went ahead and turned around Tal Afar anyway. The name of this insurgent colonel? H.R. McMaster, who made such a close study of the top-down dysfunctionality of decision-making in Vietnam.

Most organisations cannot rely on having the equivalent of an H.R. McMaster, who had – literally – a PhD in failures of leadership. So businesses try instead to encourage bottom-up feedback with “360-degree” appraisal processes, “workout” sessions such as those introduced by Jack Welch at General Electric, or anonymous suggestion cards. Older tactics include the court jester and the devil's advocate.

The other striking lesson of Iraq is that a change at the top can work wonders. General David Petraeus, who took command in Iraq in 2007, rightly relied on men such as H.R. McMaster to rewrite strategy. But Gen Petraeus and his boss, Mr Rumsfeld's successor Robert Gates, had the advantage of not being the men who had made such awful decisions in the first place. Not many leaders can bear to perform their own U-turns.

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