As a leader or department head, it is very easy to do all of the talking. You want people to know you as a leader – the one to look to for answers. You may have a lot of answers in fact. But, when is it appropriate to not deliver the message and let your team member speak?
A friend of mine was in a recent situation where her direct report gave his notice after a long time with the organization. Instead of allowing her to notify the team and say a few words of support and appreciation, her department head sent the entire team an appointment titled: “Team Update” at the end of the work day for a 15-minute block of time.
Most people know this means someone is leaving but, sometimes, this vague meeting can cause unnecessary alarm. My friend was unclear as to what would be discussed since she had no knowledge that this is how the news would be shared with the broader team. The department head kicked off the meeting by saying there was news to share and then proceeded to hand the mic to my friend’s manager, not her.
She was stunned that she was not asked to share the news. She sat there mute. She wasn’t allowed to say anything. They even mis-characterized a few points because they were one and two levels removed from the situation. The person leaving was embarrassed and shook his head. This was actually one of the reasons he was leaving because no one could speak up except for leadership.
Others approached my friend after the meeting and asked if she knew that her direct report was leaving. She was even asked why she didn’t say anything. She was made to look out of the loop and immaterial to the situation, which led her to become pretty irritated and deflated.
This may seem like a simple thing. Maybe my friend over-reacted. Maybe she could have jumped in over her leaders and also said a few words. I firmly believe these tiny moments add up for an employee. One slight here, one exclusion there. Pretty soon you have a very disengaged employee who may walk out the door.
There are times when leaders need to let go and ask others closer to the situation to communicate or make the proposal or deliver the news. Too much hierarchy and “chain of command” can be damaging to a person’s sense of value and importance. Good leaders need to be able to recognize when to be silent and let someone else do the talking.