"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
Upton Sinclair

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations


Word count this issue: 493

Estimated reading time:  3:30 minutes


Hello from Vancouver. I hope that wherever you are today, geographically, spiritually, physically or emotionally is good.


I do not usually link my church land work with Leadership Notes, but I am scheduled to preach on March 5 at Christ Church Cathedral and the assigned readings include the story of Adam, Eve and the serpent. This story is among the most famous stories in the western world, and is in fact a far more complex story than we usually understand. The sermon will be posted at www.thecathedral.ca on the Monday of Tuesday of that week. In the meantime, I have been thinking a lot about it and how an element of the story speaks to leadership.


As you may know, G-d commands the first humans, ‘you can eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ And pretty soon they have eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and things start ago awry for them. Now there are hundreds of interpretations about this story. For our purposes, and the reason I have kept the narrative here so basic is that we humans are a curious species. If we think there is something new, or something hidden, we want to explore it. This is especially true of our youth, or when we are not inside the circle of power. If you imagine, for just a moment that God is the CEO, the circle of power, and the first humans are the staff in this organization called “Eden, Inc.” The CEO says magnanimously you can have all of these perks, but do not do this, what do you think is going to happen? Someone’s curiosity is going to be awakened. 


We need to have rules of the road in our organizations; none of them are paradisiacal Edens. And, remember that without explanation about why, simply saying to people you cannot do, have or be this often sets up a collision course. People will want to eat of what ever your “tree of knowledge and good and evil” is, most especially if accessing it is restricted.  The key here is to be as transparent as is possible.


Here are three keys to such transparency:


  1. Be clear about expectations; if people are not to know about something, be clear that there are restrictions
  2. Be clear about engaging; talk to people about what is accessible and what is not. 
  3. Be clear in your explanation about why there are restrictions; simply saying it is ‘above your pay grade’ is not a reasonable explanation. There are good reasons for many restrictions; personal privacy or strategic confidentiality. for example.


And the more accessible your trees of knowledge of good and evil are for the beginning, the less crisis management will be required.