One question you should never ask

Why I wasn’t told?!

Have you ever got mad at your subordinates for not telling you something they were supposed to? Were you ever on the receiving end of such a wrath? How did you feel? I would bet that it triggered anger, frustration, possibly guilt but definitely not a need for better communication and cooperation. “Why I wasn’t told?” is a question that you as a leader should never ask your subordinates. Let me walk you through some of the actions that usually lead to this question and what you can do to never get to a point that you need to ask it. And even if you get to such situation, how do you reach the desired outcome without actually asking the question at all?

At the beginning let me make clear my position on the topic. If I have a manager on my team who comes to me and says that it is not his fault that something happened because he didn’t know about it and his team didn’t inform him, essentially implying that it is their fault, he is in trouble. It is solely and completely problem of the manager and not his team. In fact, because he blames the team it makes the whole situation also my problem as this guy obviously has some serious leadership issues that I need to go and fix.

What leads to this question?

Surprise – by the fact that something happened and surprise by the fact that you wasn’t told. It can happen but what does it really mean? Why should you be surprised? It is very likely that you either didn’t set the expectation with your team, or you don’t listen, or you have trust issues.

Expectations – you have set or most likely not set for your team. Is your team clear on what information they should pass on you? Do they know how to recognize critical issues you want to be informed about?

Listening – or rather lack of it. Do you actually listen when people tell you the information you requested? Do you reply back when you are getting reports to either inquire about details or at least say thank you? Because if people send you reports and never hear back they will stop sending it, or at least will not collect all the information and the reports will be of low quality. Why to spend time on a report that no one reads? And if your team talks to you and you ignore their comments and concerns than it is again a signal for the team not to talk to you at all.

Trust – does your team actually trust you? What did you do recently to win trust of your team? If you want the communication to flow you need to show to the team that you care, you trust, you are someone who can make things happen if provided by information.

Guilt – that you missed something and you feel it was expected from you to know. So now you are trying to find a scapegoat, someone you can blame. I hope this one doesn’t apply to you but sometimes we can act from guilt on subconscious level. You need to catch this as soon as possible and stop looking for scapegoats. If there was a communication issue between you and your team then it is completely your responsibility and as a leader you need to take it on your shoulders and not pass it on your team. It would destroy the trust as mentioned above.

Panic – did you actually really expect to get the information? Or was it just that some external pressure (for example from your boss) clouded for a minute your judgment so you started to act like you of course should have the information available even though a minute ago you couldn’t care less? If that is the case, just calm down, ignore your team and rather have a conversation with your boss about his expectations and what level of details he believes you should have or provide.

How to avoid the question?

What is done is done. No point of bothering your team with this question. Direct this question to yourself instead. Ask why you believe you didn’t get the information and try to analyze it from the perspectives mentioned above. And if you come to conclusion that indeed there was something more you expect from the team to do then sit with them and “set the expectations”, while doing it “listen” to their comments and ask what you can do to help them to provide what you need thus building the “trust”. And if you acted without thinking early on, then “apologize” for the rushed act.

Good leader knows all what he needs to know. People inform him about the right things at the right time because they trust him, know his expectations, and know he will listen and act when needed. Because of these traits, they bring to his attention issues and potential risks at early stages while it is still time to deal with them. If the leader doesn’t listen or doesn’t act then people stop coming.

At the end let me debunk the title of the article. Yes, you should never ever direct this question to your team, but it is somewhat fine to ask it your boss. If you are not getting the information necessary to get your job done then it is fair to ask why not. Though you may still want to be a bit more diplomatic and rather than yelling at your boss just remind him that in the future it would be beneficial for all if this sort of information somehow found its way to you.

Twitter type summary: “Why I wasn’t told?” is the single question a leader never asks his people as it transfers blame for failure from him to the team.

Have it ever happened to you that you blamed your team for note providing information you needed? In retrospect, what led to the behavior of your team? What let to your own behavior?

4 thoughts on “One question you should never ask

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