He (She) Knew; or Should Have Known

Posted by bob on August 15, 2016

I believe a new standard is coming for the behavior of leaders. Whether you are a political, social, business, or other type of leader, the new standard for your behavior is this:  He (She) knew, or should have known that their direction would lead to specific consequences.

The words with emphasis make a big difference.

It shall no longer be a defense to say, “Oh, well, I did not intend for that to happen!  Clearly, someone downstream took actions that I could never have anticipated.”

If you are the leader of a business that is suffering from declining market size, and you are pushing your sales team for yearly increases in sales, can you really say that you never expected them to lie, cheat, or steal their way to meeting your unrealistic goals?

At this point, somebody will jump up and say, “Oh, but we gained by taking market share from our competition, so we grew while they all shrank.”  Perhaps, but can you back that up with irrefutable evidence that your product or service was sufficiently superior to everyone else in the marketplace?  I mean evidence that supports the contention that customers switched to your product because of a valid superiority, instead of a well-timed bribe?

Therein lies the trap, the challenge, the problem.  In today’s high speed, free-wheeling, open-knowledge, open-information world, it is extremely difficult, to legally do anything in such a superior way that you keep out competitors.  This means that if you are succeeding beyond the dreams of avarice, you know (or should have known) that your people are committing crimes to get you there.

The strategies and tactics that were perfectly legal to help you achieve business dominance, mostly become illegal once you become dominant.  And often they are illegal on the way to dominance, but maybe you did not get caught.  You should know this.

Let’s return to the more general subject of leadership and this “should have known” standard.  Think about how tough it is for people working in any position to completely know every aspect of their particular skill. 

How would you feel if your boss came in and said, “Hey, you should have known that we changed this requirement to 95dB instead of 90dB.” 

You might be in a defensible position if the boss failed to publish the new specification.  But if he did publish that information, and you did not read it, then you should have known.  Protect yourself by doing your homework and writing stuff down.

When a standard gets applied to leaders, it quickly gets applied to followers too.