Following is a condensed scene from Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. The book’s central character, Pete Leonard, is a middle manager in a tech services firm. He reports to Doug, a blustering and bullying boss. Pete and his peers meet at Rocky’s for drinks after a budgeting day run by Doug. Omar, a new IT manager who recently joined the company, was castigated by Doug for suggesting the division had too many projects and priorities and can’t do them all.
Rocky and Bullwinkle’s is a restaurant/pub. It’s just down the street from the office. Its theme and interior were loosely based on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon series.
Click here for a previous blog to eavesdrop on part of the meeting and some of Omar’s pub discussion with the team afterward.
Damali looked at Pete. “The list of projects that came out this morning is unbelievable. I knew we had a lot on our plates, but I had no idea the list was soooo long. Did you?”
“Operations is involved in many of these projects, so I had a pretty good idea,” Pete said. “But I didn’t see the big picture until today.”
“The project list needs to at least be sorted into critically urgent, extremely urgent, and really urgent,” Rosie said.
“We can’t go on like this,” Danali said. “It’s the tyranny of the urgent. I can’t stand the endless fire storms of crisis much longer. My department is burning out, and I am afraid we’re going to lose some of our best people.”
Chuck and Omar arrived and pulled two chairs over to the table. “I thought today’s victim could use a drink and consolation,” Chuck laughed as he patted Omar on the back. Omar could only manage a rueful smile.
Damali offered sympathetic words to Omar. She had an animated discussion with him about the team’s dysfunction and just how critical his attempt to prioritize all the projects really was.
That Slinging Feeling: Fear Fosters Deafening Silence
At the other end of the table, Harold quietly talked to Pete about his reluctance to speak up and help the team face its “moose mess …”
“I remember when you used to sort through all the conflicting priorities to help our team set clear goals and plans, Pete,” Harold said. Before Doug arrived at NMTS as senior vice president, Harold reported to Pete. “You need to bring some of that discipline to this team.”
“We go back far enough together for me to know just what leadership you’re capable of,” Harold said. “I don’t know how you’ve lost your way. I’m going to tell you this as a friend as much as a colleague, but it’s disappointing to see you in this state. For your own sake and ours, you’ve got to get back on track.”
“I’m not that guy anymore,” Pete mumbled. “Now I am just going along to get along. If we lie low long enough, this too shall pass. Assuming the company makes it through this rough patch — and that I do too — I’ve got about seven or eight more years until my pension kicks in. I’ll still be young enough to move on and do what I really want to do. The truth is, I can’t afford to do anything at this point to jeopardize my job.”
Pete took a sip of his beer before continuing, “I don’t know what happened. It was all so gradual. As each little issue or problem came along, it never seemed like it was worth making a big deal of. But I slowly lost control of my time and my life. Good old Doug, our customers, my peers, members of the team, and the crazy-busy world of meetings, e-mails, and phone calls just ground me down.
Silent Choices: Cowardice or Courage
I wrote Moose on the Table as a fictional story blending many characters and elements of challenges we’ve seen with leaders and teams. The book explored the fear/courage continuum through the personal and professional struggles of Pete Leonard.
Pete epitomizes how fear can silently slip into our lives. Fear is a major cause of stress and worry. It’s an inside job. No one else can make us stressed or worried without our agreement. When we allow fear and worry into our thoughts, they cast huge shadows over our lives and block out so much of the light and daily enjoyments that we could be basking in. These shadows can creep over us and reduce our lives to just barely coping or just getting by. Fear kills team and organizational effectiveness as communications close and conversations become ever more guarded and shallower.
Like a spotlight cutting through darkness, courage shines brightest in the presence of fear. It’s easy to boldly march forward when we’re filled with confidence and the way forward is smooth. It takes courageous leadership to navigate our way when we’re full of negative worries, and everything seems to be against us. True courage is to master, rather than be mastered by our fears.
Silence Isn’t Golden
In “Is Silence Killing Your Company?” Harvard leadership professor, Leslie Perlow, and research associate, Stephanie Williams, report, “Many times, often with the best of intentions, people at work decide it’s more productive to remain silent about their differences than to air them. But as new research…. shows, silencing doesn’t smooth things over or make people more productive. It merely pushes differences beneath the surface and can set in motion powerfully destructive forces.”
Like the elephant in the room, the moose on the table is a metaphor representing problems or issues that aren’t being addressed. The moose stands on the meeting room table while everyone does his or her best to pretend it’s not there.
How big or small is your moose mess? Take our short quiz to do some moose hunting.