You may be killing your employees – The Utopian Boss Syndrome

The utopian boss may be killing employeesThe challenging part of change is not achieving something new,
but rather letting go something we know well.

Just when you thought physics were gone for good I invite you to remember this principle: No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. Well, I guess you know that, as it’s the same principle that applies when you are trying to make room for your kids rehearsal on Tuesday morning in an already overloaded agenda. It’s that precise moment when you are trying to make everything fit only to realize that you have to take something out in order to put something in. It’s as simple asthat; if you’re trying to decide between making your lunch date and safe driving, you need to take something out in order to put something else in and accomplish your goal. It’s not always the smartest, safest choice either, but let’s face it, that’s what normally happens.

No two objects (or thoughts) can occupy the same place at the same time and change management is no exception – as soon as we start implementing change, even at the early stages we soon realize there are some behaviors, habits, practices and policies that need to be changed in order to meet the goals. Unfortunately, these behaviors, habits and policies are strictly linked to people, and human beings are not always willing to change at the needed pace or in the same direction, and here is where the utopian approach to change usually comes in.

Who wants trouble? Me neither, and that’s precisely why most leaders are tempted to promise things they are not really sure of. They don’t do it because they want to create trouble, they do it because they don’t know better, as that’s the best way they know to keep things calm. Understandably they want everyone to be happy, to remain calm and keep working, and they suffer from the utopian approach to change.

The utopian leader usually promises a painless, effortless, seamless journey through change; in other words they promise a change without change, as bizarre as it sounds. And that’s exactly what they do; they would literally bend over backwards to ensure everyone is able to stay the same, do the same and still survive change. Well, that may be possible… in Utopia!

The problem with this type of approach towards change is that it is not sustainable, creates no sense of urgency, develops no ownership and, worst of all, it doesn’t promote change in the most important factor of the whole equation: your teammates. Not to mention that the utopian leader usually ends-up burnt out or seen as a liar since he didn’t get to keep his promise.

Change is good; the sooner you accept the things you’ve lost (because this is not utopia and you’ll always lose something when you change), the sooner you’ll be ready to grab whatever comes next, I remember seeing my bank account going from six figures into the red in just a couple of days after being kidnapped. That’s a big change, and it definitely creates a sense of uncertainty everywhere. I wasn’t sure about making it back home, about finding my family still alive, I wasn’t certain about anything, indeed UNCERTAINTY was written all over my life with capital letters and the only way I could deal with it was accepting what I was going through, accepting that some things were gone for good and I had to work with the facts, understand the consequences of my decisions, and have a clear perception of the importance of the whole situation. I had all the information I needed to make my decisions. In a situation like this a utopian boss would’ve gotten me killed.

Lots of managers, directors, supervisors, coordinators and project leaders suffer what I call “The Utopian Boss Syndrome” and are unknowingly and unwillingly  “killing” their employees and teammates by keeping information they really need to make good, well-informed decisions.

If you are reading this and your company is going through change (every company is) please don’t “kill” your employees, but rather help them survive by making sure they understand the main goal and the consequences of not getting there. In other words, communicate, communicate and once again communicate, after all, when talking about change, there is no such thing as over-communication.

Every time I deliver my Keynote: How real leader face crisis,  people ask me how I managed to survive, to negotiate the ransom and deal with all this uncertainty. The answer is simple: “I accepted change was going to happen with or without me. I just decided I wanted to be part of it,” and believe me, every day when I look at my wife and kids I know I made the right choice, I got to see beyond the change and into what change might bring, a vision worth having a future worth seeing.

My name is Jaime Leal and I help good change happen

Jaime Leal 

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