Sometimes Leadership is as Simple as a Piece of Paper

So, it’s official.  President Obama was born in the United States.  The debate over his birthplace has been brewing since before he entered office.  This week, the long version if his Hawaii birth certificate was made available to the public. Click here for the news article.

While I’m sure the issue may continue to be debated in some fashion by both sides of the political aisle, analysts and citizens alike, I am more perplexed but this question:  what was so difficult about providing a simple piece of paper that could have ended a simple question?

It’s a birth certificate.  Everyone (in the US) has one.  It’s a simple piece of paper that provides vital information about a human’s entrance to the world.

 To me, regardless of your political affiliation or opinions about President Obama, there is a leadership lesson at the heart of this entire hullabaloo.

Consider these three truths:
#1  Silence creates doubt.
When leadership refuses to respond to employee questions in a timely manner, employees will make up their version of the answer.  Employees – in the only way they can – try to piece two and two together from their own experiences to answer their questions.  The problem though, is employees don’t have all the answers which results in false assumptions and opinions about their concerns.  And when the leader won’t answer one question, employees begin to wonder [assume] what else he or she may be hiding. 

#2 “Trivial” matters are relative
Perspective is typically different depending on what side of the fence you are standing.  Leaders see the organization from a broad, strategic position.  In contrast, employees often view the organization from the day to day details of their job without a full understanding of the entire scope of the business. This means what is often important to an employee (ie: the location of a break room or a memo sharing why a specific business decision was made) can seem inconsequential to a leader.  But by responding in those little efforts, leadership will gain the greatest respect from employees. 

 #3 “Because I said so” doesn’t work on adults
This popular phrase is often spoken by parents to children.  The role of mom or dad is referent power and authority that stands.  As we get older, that phrase, when said to us, works in rare instances.  And when it is successful, a great deal of trust exists.  During the 2008 presidential campaign Mr. Obama released a computer print-out of the birth certificate information but the move did little to quell the critics. Numerous statements were provided by the White House to resolve speculations.  But the critics wanted an authentic document, the one that was finally released this week.  Sadly, a statement from the White House (the equivalent of “because I said so”) was not sufficient. 

More than likely, your employees are not asking to see your proof of US birth.  But what question are they asking you today? And how are you responding? Remember, you don’t need an act of Congress to meet most of their needs.

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