But even if corporate's intentions are good??eware. You as a leader must relentlessly shield your team from its interference. To do otherwise is a fast track to losing your team's confidence and respect. Every time you groan that "Jim says we have to cut 10% of inventory," or complain that "Helen is forcing me to get rid of Steve because he's so bad at meetings," you make yourself look like a marionette. In fact, you actually make yourself a marionette. That's career suicide for you and not much better for your team. Very soon, instead of looking to you for direction, your people will be looking around you, searching for signs from the "real boss." If you think speed and morale are taking a hit now, watch out.
So, back to your problem??hich happens to be extremely common. Obviously, we're not going to suggest you become a corporate apologist, trying to sell every edict to your people as if it were ice cream. By all means, push back hard on behalf of your business. Challenge nonsense targets. Negotiate for resources. But keep that process behind closed doors, and when it is over, whether you've made gains or not, own corporate's final decision as your own. Take it to your people as your plan.
Remember Jim's inventory cut? Say he won't budge, even after you've made the case that it's stupid in your business' high-demand environment. At that point, you need to buck up and move on. Get with your team and figure out a way to deliver the additional net income or cash that corporate wants without whacking inventory levels and disappointing customers.
As for poor Steve, whom Helen wants fired??hat's another case for you to own. If Steve's a solid contributor, instead of pulling the trigger while blaming Helen, quietly work your tail off to improve his presentation skills. In other words, make it your job to manage the interface between corporate and your team. And when corporate makes that interface thorny, don't share your pain??bsorb it.
If that sounds a bit unnatural, that's because it is. It is perfectly human for managers to want to blame "up there" for how hard it is "down here." But real leaders can't do that. And they don't.I just said no to an excellent business opportunity because I didn't trust the person in charge, even after he doubled the salary to keep me from walking. I'm still having pangs of regret because I was passionately in love with the product. Did I do the right thing? ?Wendy Garfield, New York
Double the money is very nice, we'll give you that. But the facts are you just cannot work long with people you don't trust, because trust is the foundation for everything good that happens in organizations, like candor, collaboration, feedback, debate, and creativity.
Now, there certainly are times when you will join a company not because you particularly like the people but because you love the product so passionately, to use your phrase, or because it just offers so much career opportunity. But trust is different from like, and the boss is different from people in general. You saw a red flag and you heeded it. Stop feeling those pangs and feel good about your call. Jack and Suzy Welch look forward to answering your questions about business, company, or career challenges. Please e-mail them at thewelchway@BusinessWeek.com For their podcast discussion of this column, go to www.businessweek.com/search/podcasting.htm