Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Bad News: the News a Manager Most Needs to Know

In CTE, we communicate our concerns to one another promptly and candidly. We do not harbor slights or hold onto grudges.

Earlier this evening I was preparing notes for a floor program on ‘dispute resolution.’ The floor program did not happen (this can be an occupational hazard with such events) but it got me to thinking about one of the most important attributes if a good manager: the ability to be accepting of, indeed, to encourage the communication of “bad news.” I tried to capture this principle in the quotation above, which is drawn from a document entitled: “serving the AU community and relating to one another: CTE priorities.”

Communicating concerns and being accepting of other’s concerns is an important principle of dispute resolution, as well as good management. If concerns can be communicated – and ‘completed’ - at an early stage of a dispute, the dispute is less likely to escalate and get out of hand.

American University is now in the throes of a dispute that has escalated and is getting out of hand. Former President Ladner, dissident former Board members, current board members, faculty, staff and students appear to be staking out adversarial roles. Moderate voices are finding it harder and harder to be heard.

It appears that former President Ladner’s greatest – indeed fatal – shortcoming as a manager was an unwillingness to embrace bad news. By all reports he created a climate where both his own staff , senior university administrators and perhaps board members as well were fearful of challenging him. No one was willing to stand up and say “Ben this isn’t right” in a way that could be heard at a time when such words could have made a difference. All of us at AU are now paying the price, Dr. Ladner most of all. Not all be invoices have yet fallen due.

Whether the object of our concern is a roommate, friend, wife, child, other family member, faculty member, administrator, politician or university president, we must have the courage to communicate bad news. And there is a reciprocal obligation. Leaders and managers especially must, out of self interest if nothing more, create a climate of love and affirmation that empowers others to communicate bad news to them. Their survival and success depends on this. Had Dr. Ladner’s management style incorporated this principle, he might still be President of American University.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has applied to grad school at AU, I am starting to become a bit concerned about this Ladner situation. How will it reflect on the institution now that the Senate is investigating this problem ?
On the other hand, I am glad that the Senate is becoming involved as it was important to look at the ridiculous, huge severance package that was offered to Ladner.
This action taken by the Senate is the only thing that still makes me feel confident about AU. But I must say that my faith in AU will melt if there are no satisfying results in regards to the whole situation.
I hope that the entire staff and students and AU will have the courage to do what is right and stand up for their academic rights.

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