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Transparency and Leadership: Avoid Emily Litella Syndrome

Feb 26, 2012 by Bill Collier 0 Comments
 

Emily Litella, in one of her typical on-air rants: “What’s this I hear about computer parking lots? We’re in a recession, people are losing their jobs, and now we have parking lots for computers! It’s an outrageous waste of land and money!”

 

Jane Curtin, with her typical disdain for Emily: “It’s commuter parking lots.”

 

Emily: “Oh … Never mind.”

 

A note to those of you too young to have experienced Saturday Night Live’s original cast from the 1970s: Look up Emily Litella on Wikipedia. Better yet, see her on YouTube. Played by the late, great Gilda Radner, Emily was a commentator for the SNL Weekend Update news. Emily always jumped to rash and incorrect conclusions because she never had the right facts.

 

Do your employees do the same thing?

 

I constantly encounter business owners who are worried that their employees will find out either how well or how poorly the company is doing. Of course, lately it’s trending toward the “poorly” end of the spectrum – but either way, here’s my usual response:

 

“Your employees aren’t dumb. They’ll probably figure it out. But even if you can hide the truth, why would you? In the absence of facts and information, your employees will make assumptions and jump to conclusions. Their decisions and behaviors will be based on these false assumptions. How do you expect that to work out?”

 

A little business transparency goes a long way.

 

That word – transparency - seems especially relevant today, given our current state of affairs. Think about the world of big-business, banking, and high finance. A string of crumbled companies, bankruptcies, lost pensions, mass firings, devastated families and broken dreams. Don’t even get me started on Congressional “leaders” who make deals behind closed doors and ram legislation through without even allowing their members to read bills before voting.

 

Many of America’s economic woes could have been avoided, but for a lack of transparency in businesses.

 

I’d argue that transparency gives rise to leadership. The importance of building trust through transparency cannot be understated. 

 

In an open environment, leadership is a must. It requires you to carefully choose the “people on the bus” who are worthy of trust and who will act in the business’ best interests with the information given to them. It also means that you’ll have to explain the information - to mentor and train your team – so they’ll know what it all means.

 

Transparency allows full and effective delegation. “Here’s the goal. Go make it happen.” Knowing the organization’s goals, financial status, and available resources allow confident decision-making.

 

Integrity – a cornerstone of leadership - goes hand-in-and with openness. Shady business practices are like fungus and vampires. They don’t thrive in the bright light of day.

 

Business owners who worry that their employees will know the company’s status are withholding information and keeping their employees in the dark – and still expecting good results. It’s much like asking someone to play a sport without keeping score.

 

Delegation? A secrecy-cloaked environment throws a blanket over every potential solution. Aside from the top leaders, nobody has the big picture: “What should I do? What can I do? What resources are available? What methods make sense for our current financial situation?” The lack of information will result in questions, false assumptions, and faulty decisions … making micro-management necessary.

 

So often, the small business community looks to the captains of industry for answers. It sure seems to me that the example set lately by the big business community calls for a shift in thinking.

 

Why can’t the small and mid-sized business community set the tone for a change? Let’s start a revolution of our own. Let’s be the example-setters. Let’s be the poster-boys and poster-girls for transparency. For integrity. For solid business practices. And for leadership.

 

The Emily Litella act was funny on TV. It’s not funny in your organization. Open up and get Emily off your payroll.

 

Topics: Leadership, Transparency

Bill Collier
Written by Bill Collier

Bill Collier is the author of “How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life”. He helps businesses improve their financial results by teaching employees to think and act like owners.

 

About The Great Game of Business

Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.