Posted on September 5, 2011 by Krishna Kumar, ISEC Founder Director

It’s good to share information that helps people and good to withhold information when it harms people

In the course of a recent coaching session, the conversation veered around to the workplace. My coachee said he was quite happy with his current position as he had a great team and was part of a company known for its core values and work ethics. In a nutshell, Life was Good.

Okay! So, what is it that we are discussing, I asked, trying to delve deeper and understand what was on his mind. “Actually, I am not sure. It is just that I have this fear of the future. I am not sure where I am headed with my employers,” said the coachee who was a senior manager with close to two decades of experience.

I perked up and asked if he was worried about his career? He was unsure and said it did not really matter as he believed that he was doing something he liked and also hadn’t set himself targets in terms of monetary gains or moving up the hierarchy. “Aah! So, am I right in assuming that you would be comfortable for the next ten years doing whatever it is that you are doing now?” I asked, almost repeating my earlier question.

“Of course, not,” he replied. I want to do more interesting things with my time. Somehow, I am not really sure where my future lies with the company and I am not even sure if I would think of moving on if things stop exciting me here, he said. Once again I tried to paraphrase his thought and said, “So, are you unsure of where you stand with your organization.” “Precisely, and I am not good at anything else than what I am currently doing,” he said.

Did his company offer avenues for knowledge sharing or expanding his activity to include a larger audience? He wasn’t sure about this. What’s more, he wasn’t sure whom to ask. “I don’t think my boss knows either, he said, right on cue as if he could almost read my mind. Would it be a good idea to get your boss to ask his boss for clarity? “Oh! Can I do that”? he asked wistfully.

Not willing to fall into the ‘solution trap’, I veered away and asked his indulgence in an exercise. I set the stage by supposing that he was waiting for a connecting flight and chanced upon the CEO of his company at the bookstore of an international airport. “How would you react,” I asked to which he replied that he’d slink away as he would ‘not wish to intrude into the privacy’ of the Big Boss. And what if he sees you and comes over, I persisted. Well, in that case, I’d make small conversation about the books, he said.

I pestered him some more about possible scenarios and finally asked if he would consider asking him about the company’s future? “Oh! I cannot ask him about his corporate strategy as part of a casual chat, that too at an airport. It would be downright rude,” he reasoned. And what if he starts talking about the company and offers you the platform? “Even then, I don’t think it would be a good idea to cross-question him. He’s the boss and I may lose my job, he retorted, this time with a look of incredulity on his face.

At this juncture, I returned to the earlier conversation and asked him to name the one person in his company who would have insights into the future of his division, which incidentally brought in 20% of revenues? “That’s easy. It would be our CEO,” he said. What followed was silence as I left him to introspect about the discussion.

Leaving my coachee to his thoughts, I returned to mine as I recalled a similar situation in my life where my problem was solved by the company’s CFO who unwittingly defined my division’s future and set in motion my eventual exit. Four years later, the division was closed down and pink slips handed out.

Marshall Goldsmith defines the biggest challenge of a leader as “information compulsion”. “It’s good to share information that helps people and good to withhold information when it harms people,” he says in a blog. But, what is it that makes us wary of asking questions? Does it have something to do the way our education system not encouraging questions? Or is it world’s way of maintaining status quo? To ask is to know and once we know, we cannot refrain from acting on the information!

As Vivekananda said: “To believe blindly is to degenerate the human soul. Be an atheist if you want, but do not believe in anything unquestioningly.”

(This blog is contributed by Raj Narayan, Editor of the ISEC Newsletter and a member of our faculty. You can read his blogs at Onlineobelix.com)