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Stop It! – Behaviors You Must Stop to Become a Leader

Stop It! – Leadership Series Blog #4 – Pernicious Competition, Part 2, Withholding Information.

By: Becky E. Zook RN, BSN, MS

Introduction

To date, the NurseWritersGroup blog covers leadership behaviors detrimental to teams and the leaders’ careers. In our first blog, we noted many leadership publications are fraught with behaviors we SHOULD be doing; however, very few identify those actions we must STOP doing to be successful.

In our second and third blogs, we discussed how a lack of self-awareness and the use of veiled negativity are detrimental to the success of teams and the bottom line of any business. If you still need to read the first four blog entries, I recommend you do so before reading this publication. The context will be helpful for your understanding. Please use this link to visit the NurseWritersGroup Blog page, where the articles are found.

In our fourth installment, we are covering a weighty topic: pernicious competition. Competition, when approached correctly, is healthy and can spur teams toward greatness. However, when competition takes the form of withholding information, groups, projects, whole departments, and even companies can and do fail.

Withholding Information

We all have experienced an information gap in our lives and careers. Sometimes, that gap is accidental or situational, meaning no one intended to keep information from you. Other times, the data is purposely, with malice, held back from you to ensure your failure. Both instances affect the team negatively. The difference between these created information gaps is the intent of the leader. Let’s examine both unintentionally and intentionally withholding information from teams.

Unintentionally withholding information

In our example, a fictitious leader named Jeff is friendly and well-liked by his team and peers. He leads a large group of project managers who must also direct their teams. All in all, more than 50 people report to Jeff, making systematic communication important. However, Jeff lacks some self-awareness; Jeff is forgetful. He provides progress reports and receives feedback and direction from the sr. leadership team, weekly.

For his team’s continued success, Jeff must carefully communicate. However, Jeff rarely holds all team member meetings and counts on some project managers to share information throughout the department. Jeff haphazardly shares bits of data with the project managers without bringing them all together.

As a result, most project management team members never receive critical feedback on the projects. Sadly, Jeff’s projects fail, the department loses money, project managers are laid off, and Jeff is left to clean up the mess with a small staff, none of whom trust Jeff. Jeff is guilty of unintentionally withholding information; he is too busy and self-absorbed to ensure everyone is in the information loop.

Intentionally withholding information

In this example, our leader’s name is Barb. Barb is the director of sales for a tech company. Her team consists of four regional managers and their teams of up to 20 sales staff each. All in all, Barb has almost 100 people in her department, making specific, detailed, and systematic communication necessary. Barb’s team has always done well with sales, growing yearly by at least 5%.

The Vice President of the tech company calls Barb into his office and introduces another director named Diane. Diane was hired as Barb’s partner, splitting the team in two for continued growth opportunities. The VP tells Barb, “You’ve done a great job with this team, Barb. We want to double the size of our sales team in the next two years, and a team that size requires more than one director. Please welcome Diane and help her acclimate to how we do things around here. I know the two of you will do amazing things together!”

Barb is flabbergasted. First, she had no knowledge a second director was hired, and she had to train Diane when Barb has always been the top sales director at the company. Barb decides to ensure Diane’s failure and begins a malicious campaign of wrongful, misleading, and withholding crucial information.

Initially, Barb’s pernicious behavior goes unnoticed, much to Barb’s satisfaction. Diane has presented incorrect data, lost a few sales, and looked foolish in front of the leadership team several times in the past month. Barb swooped in with the correct data and saved the day.

Then something happened: one of Barb’s top sales managers hears a conversation Barb and Diane are having where Barb is giving Diane incorrect information. At first, the sales manager thought it was a mistake, but hearing the conversation continue, he realizes Barb is purposefully giving Diane incorrect information. Not quite knowing what to do with this information, the sales manager speaks with his managerial peers only to discover they, too, heard Barb give Diane poor advice and blatantly mislead Diane.

As a result, the managerial team lost all respect for Barb and, out of fear for their jobs, reported the situation to human resources and senior leadership. Within a month, Barb is let go, Diane is appropriately trained, and the department produces the best quarter of sales in the company’s history.

Stop Withholding Information and Try This Instead

In both examples, the teams struggled to complete work, outcomes were affected, people lost their jobs, trust was damaged, and the bottom line of the company suffered. It is essential to note this behavior affected more than just the teams involved; when the bottom line of a company is at stake, everyone suffers.

Unintentionally withholding information and systematic communication.

In our first example, Jeff withholds information and is completely unaware he is doing so. His haphazard ways of information dissemination have a far-reaching effect on his entire team and career. Jeff has to recognize he is causing a problem and STOP ignoring it. One possible solution is systematic communication. According to the journal Pharmacy Online, systematic communication includes,

  • presenting information in a logical order
  • breaking down complex issues into simple parts
  • presenting all necessary details
  • avoiding vague, ambiguous, or overly technical language

Given Jeff’s propensity for unintentionally withholding information, Jeff might engage his project managers and discuss overcoming the problem. Maybe one of Jeff’s project managers is a strong communicator and should attend the senior leadership meetings with Jeff to develop communication and action plans. Or Jeff may ask to record sessions so his team can watch the proceedings and gain information. The most important thing Jeff can do is to STOP what he is doing right now and work with his team to find a better way forward.

Intentionally withholding information.

Barb’s intentional acts of withholding information come from a place of jealousy, pride, fear, malice, and more. Sadly, without managerial intervention, Barb’s behaviors will not change. Once the trust of a team is irrevocably broken, only a restructuring of some sort can help put the team back on the right track.

According to Harvard Business Review, workplaces with leaders who intentionally withhold information have a 50% or greater turnover rate and lose up to $47 million annually in lost productivity. Most businesses cannot sustain profitable operations with those statistics; therefore, leaders like Barb, exhibiting this behavior, must be held accountable or dismissed from the organization.

Conclusion

Pernicious competition, in its many forms, is disruptive at best and destructive at worst. While there are healthy forms of competition in the workplace, unintentionally or intentionally withholding information has far-reaching effects on the organization. I urge you to look at yourself as a leader. Have you ever found yourself behaving in these ways? The good news is you can Stop It and recover your career and your reputation.

What do you think? Do you struggle with pernicious competition? Share your story to help others on their journey. Email us at [email protected] to join the discussion.

For a free Professional Development Consulting Services consultation about pernicious competition or other concerns, visit NurseWritersGroup.com/contact-us and send a note!

Disclaimer: This blog represents the views, thoughts, and opinions of the author and not those of any other person, organization, or entity.

References

Jiang, J. (2019, November 26). Why Withholding Information at Work Won’t Give You an           Advantage. https://hbr.org/2019/11/why-withholding-information-at-work-wont-give-you-an-advantage

Marshall Goldsmith. (2008). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Profile Books Ltd.

Marshall Goldsmith. (2014). Mojo. How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It. Hatchette Books.

Systematic Communication Style with examples—Pharmacy Infoline. (2023, September 13). https://pharmacyinfoline.com/pharma-news/systematic-communication-style/

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