Project Management

Having the Courage to Call Out Balderdash

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The Scenario: 

  • Sue and Tran are talking after leaving Rob’s team meeting.
  • “Can you believe what Jim just got away with?” Sue asks.
  • “I know, Rob must be blind. Didn’t even question it.”
  • “Same thing happened last week when Pete presented that bogus plan that looked like he spent ten minutes putting together.”
  • Tran shakes his head in disgust. “I’ve only been on Rob’s team for a few months, but I’m already seeing a pattern of him either not calling out balderdash or not recognizing it. Is he afraid or just incompetent?”
  • Sue just shrugged her shoulders as the two entered the elevator.

The Message: defines the world balderdash as “senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense.” It’s likely you’ve been in a meeting where a colleague, supplier, leader, or maybe even you, presented something that just didn’t make sense. Strong, competent leaders don’t let those skim by; they usually start out with, “help me understand . . .” then precision question the presenter to determine if it’s a communication issue or if the presenter is speaking balderdash. When it becomes evident it’s balderdash, the leader’s next actions reveal his true stripes. Some leaders shy away from confrontation altogether, others may gossip about it with a colleague, some may throw a temper tantrum, or even mentally save the event only to bring it up again in a performance appraisal. The intentional leader doesn’t do any of these; he calls it out, realigns on what needs to be done, helps with corrective action, and follows through to ensure the corrective action is taken. The intentional leader isn’t concerned about being right and doesn’t gloat over a victory; but is concerned about doing the right thing for the business. Calling out balderdash isn’t comfortable; it’s not supposed to be. It’s a necessary part of the job. However, intentional leaders need to know how to do it to get the ship righted and preserve everyone’s dignity.

Need to learn how to better call out balderdash and get things moving on the right path again? Give these ten tips a peek:

  1. Focus on the behavior, not the follower – Focus on the follower’s actions and why they were wrong; don’t attack the follower. Focusing on the follower versus the action implies that the behavior would be the same regardless of the situation and it attacks their character. Stick to the action, why it was wrong, and the consequence of the action.
  2. Make it about the team, not the follower – Focus on the action’s consequence to the team and what the tangible impact means to the team because of the action. Don’t make the follower feel as if she is alone in the battle. Stand arm in arm with the follower.
  3. Call out evasiveness – If a follower is giving vague answers or trying to answer a question that wasn’t asked, call it out. Followers need to know that they can’t pull the wool over the leader’s eyes. Expect direct answers to direct questions.
  4. Set expectations of what and when – If there is corrective action needed, get agreement with the follower on what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. Don’t allow for ambiguity on what the follower needs to do next, no TBD or ASAP.
  5. Don’t go on and on – Calling out actions doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out exercise. The follower will likely get the point after a couple of minutes. Be clear, concise, and brief; don’t make an uncomfortable situation go on any longer than necessary.
  6. Be firm, not angry – Followers need to know that you’re serious when calling out actions. Do so with a firm voice and controlled language; yelling or throwing a tantrum not only isn’t necessary but it labels you as a leader who becomes unhinged when problems occur. Followers will avoid giving bad news for fear of an angry reaction. It also can brand you as unable to control yourself when things go south. Not a good image to project, not only to followers but to your boss.
  7. Offer help – Be prepared to offer help to the follower to rectify the action. Help could come from either you as the leader or another person with the experience to help. Be ready to make yourself and others available for help.
  8. Have a quick 1:1 chat afterward – Take a couple of minutes with the follower afterward, through email/chat/direct conversation to underscore that you believe in them and are there to help correct the action. The follower needs to hear your support and encouragement. The quick chat will help ease any angst and focus more on the problem to solve versus whether or not they will still have a job.
  9. Set a follow-up discussion – After setting the what and when expectation, ask the follower to schedule a follow-up discussion with you to provide an update on the corrective action. The follow-up not only ensures corrective action is in progress, it also instills accountability in the follower to do what needs to be done by when.
  10. Acknowledge successful corrective action – When a follower successfully navigates through a corrective action, be intentional about acknowledgment. The follower needs to see you as a fair and balanced leader; one who praises good actions and calls out not-so-good actions.

The Consequences:  Not being intentional about calling out balderdash can result in the following consequences:

  • You’ll be viewed as a weak leader – When others see a problem and see you not calling out the action, you’ll be seen as afraid to confront others and lacking courage.
  • Your credibility will be challenged – Not calling out actions could cause others to wonder if you have the wisdom to know when something is wrong. Followers will likely wonder if you’ve got the experience to do the job.
  • Your team’s overall quality of work can decline – If followers know you can be fleeced, you can unwittingly set a low-quality bar of work. Followers will perform to your expectation level; if you demonstrate lowered expectations by not calling out balderdash, followers will meet your lowered expectations.

The Next Steps: 

  • Review the 10 tips for calling out balderdash.
  • Decide which ones you need to improve.
  • For any tips you’ve identified as needing work, put an action plan together to address those calling-out areas.
  • Use a trusted advisor who can hold you accountable to show courage in calling out balderdash.
Posted on: July 15, 2022 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Separating the behaviour from the person is definitely the tough part. But once you do, everything else falls into place.

Dear Lonnie
The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing and for the tips

I believe that the most appropriate reaction depends on the circumstances and the people and their behavior.

For me, the best strategy is always the search for win-win solutions.

In some situations (with the subject being discussed in private) I wonder if the "ideal" is to separate the behavior of the person

Very useful thank you.

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