Some people like surprises, some people don’t. Our reactions to them are influenced by their type – whether they are good or bad. That seems obvious enough. Then of course there is the issue of timing. Timing is everything. A good leader will understand that. Good news is one thing, and there’s often room for fun and spontaneity at work, but I mean to tell you why we need to be careful with surprises.
Two things come to mind. The first being the real importance of involving team members and colleagues early in thinking and decision-making. Not all decisions have a long lead-in time, but most do. If you don’t involve early or consult, when decisions are then made that can feel like a big surprise if a colleague didn’t see it coming at all. If you do consult at the earliest possible moment, then your team will feel they have been included and their views take into account before decisions were made. These we understand are very valuable thoughts and feelings. Even if the ultimate decision isn’t what they were hoping for, or they disagree with it, they will have a deeper and greater appreciation of the process and often dilemmas leading towards it.
The second thing is about meetings and/or conversations. Whether they be formal, informal, planned or impromptu. Everyone needs clear information about the aim and purpose of all of these. If a difficult conversation is coming up, then people need to know about it – so they can prepare for it and do their best. Recently I was hijacked in a meeting. Someone came to a routine progress checking meeting and used the opportunity to throw their power and contractual and organisational ‘weight’ around. They wanted to take the chance of showboating in front of the group by complaining and making accusations about what they thought was slow progress. They crossed the line. It felt like bullying. Because it was. What a different scenario it would have been if they had raised their concerns in advance, rather than sharing them by surprise. That would have allowed everyone to have a sensible, professional and helpful discussion about the concerns and what was planned to address them. Because they held the power and the money, this unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour went unchallenged because of that power. Those around went into shock and did a great job of initial response, but it could have been a whole lot more productive and professional.
So, there you go, involve and include, ask for input and ideas, as early and as often as you can. That will not only build your best decisions, but it will also model how to lead the process for your team. They will be all the happier for it. And prepare others to be able to prepare themselves, share considered thinking, and develop solutions to problems in the future. That way there are no unwelcome surprises and most likely positive outcomes.