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How Courageous Are You?

A real life example of Managerial Courage.

The Project and the Compromise…

Being courageous in any organization can be risky. Taking the risk of saying what needs to be said can, however, make a huge difference. Several years ago, I was asked to join a team that was working on re-engineering a supply chain process. Manufacturing was done in Canada and the USA and customers were in about 30 countries. It was an interesting project, though I didn’t have enough time to really participate fully. The compromise I made with the Project Director was that I would participate in his weekly team meetings and when my time “freed up”, I’d increase my involvement.

Observations on the (Dysfunctional) Team…

Listening in on the team meetings for a few weeks, I noticed several things, most of which were not good…

  • The team had several warring “factions”. Some were loyal to the Director and some were not and had their own agendas. Each faction tried to recruit me to their “side”.
  • Some people on the team had bosses that assigned them to undermine any progress and ensure there was no negative impact on their own departments. Yes, this surprised me!
  • The team was competing for funding with 4 or 5 other teams, and all had similar business goals. (This is common in big companies).
  • No business case for the project had been done. There was no compelling reason for doing the project.
  • There was no executive (high level) sponsor, thus no one to provide “air cover” when it was needed.

The Difficult (and Courageous) Conversation

I offered to meet with the Project Director for 20 minutes and to share my findings. I wore my best “diplomacy hat”, thinking that this conversation might not go well.  I was right; the conversation went badly (insert some curse words here). The Director’s resistance to the information was high, and I found myself “uninvited” from all future team meetings!

The Turnaround…

About four weeks later I had a call from the Director. He told me: “I was really annoyed by what you said, but the more I thought about your feedback, and the more I observed the team, the more I realized you were right. I now have an Executive Sponsor (the President of the Division). I have a good business case showing this project will save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and the competing projects have been rolled into the supply chain project. And I need you on the team”.

The Successful Conclusion…

As it turned out, that combined project was key to the business’ success and helped the careers of all us who worked on it. Without that (courageous) difficult conversation, the project may have failed.

The Call to Action…

If you are like me, you’ll have many opportunities for exercising courage. And if you are like me you may hesitate to step forward. Taking the risk of saying what needs to be said can make a huge difference to the success of a business or organization.

David Green

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