Q: I’m struggling with a lack of confidence in my company’s executive staff bordering on cynicism. The higher I’ve gotten in my position, the more visibility I have into how and why decisions are made. I’m not sure what to do, or if any other company would be any different. — Al, 41, vice president, sales
A: It can definitely be eye-opening to understand all of the considerations that go into organizations’ decisions, even in the best of cases.
In your situation, perhaps you are seeing that your ideals clash with the reality of your company. This is worth reflecting upon.
For example, if decisions are being made that put profits over customer needs or even safety, this would be extremely disturbing.
Or if a company directive requires you or your sales force to lie or otherwise impinge on your ethics, you would be right to be alarmed.
However, things are seldom this unambiguous.
First, consider that the executive leadership team likely can’t tell you everything that would help you understand the true reasons behind all their decisions.
Confidentiality is a fact of life at those levels, and as you continue to gain more promotions, additional information will be shared.
You may find that you then can understand some rationales that simply didn’t make sense before.
There’s also a place for some humility. You simply may not have quite enough background to grasp the complexity of the many factors that this team is managing.
Also keep in mind that your senior leaders are flawed humans, just like all of us. While each undoubtedly has skills that got them to that level, they also have weaknesses. And sometimes they may have a bad day or make mistakes, no matter how good their intentions may be. Your reservations may not simply be the reaction of an idealistic or naive young executive. There may, in fact, be veniality afoot.
The first question to confront is, how will you know if things are amiss? Sometimes those committing fraud or other criminal acts hide their tracks very well.
The next question is, what are you willing to do? Integrity would call for the whistleblower path.
If you intend to do this, plan ahead so that you are prepared for the risks and potential costs.
In the end, a likely cause is simple mediocrity. Your company may have a decent vision or product, but just not very skilled leadership. Your executives may be over their heads, and not be able to create plans that truly lead to the vision. This is called fantasy and doesn’t end well in business.
Or you may have found that your firm’s reason for existence simply doesn’t inspire you, and maybe you are pinning the blame on management.
You then need to decide if you can be a difference maker in this situation.
If you stay with the company, identify ways that you can influence the firm within your current role and in future positions, if you should be promoted.
If you decide to look elsewhere, use this situation to plan questions you will ask and observations you will want to make to find an organization that better meets your expectations for leadership.