Few assets are more important to a financial advisor than personal integrity. Your clients expect you to give them advice straight from the shoulder.
But sometimes it’s not that easy to call a spade a spade. In fact, I’m sure you’ve been tempted now and then to keep quiet about awkward information that might harm a relationship. After all, your clients are paying you to use your judgment on their behalf, aren’t they? Isn’t a harmonious relationship what’s best for them?
I’m a firm believer in compassion and tolerance, but it’s important to remember that the best relationships with clients and colleagues are ultimately based not on good vibrations, but on trust. For the sake of your integrity, the foundation of trust, there are times when you may need to be forthright about that bothersome spade.
Here are some situations in which direct confrontation could be preferable to a softer touch–and vice versa.
We need to bring talented people on board for the day when our crusty old patriarch steps down, but our new hires are so discouraged by his refusal to share power that they don’t stay long. When I interview job seekers, I find myself casting the company in a rosy glow to keep them from running for the hills. This isn’t fair to them, but being upfront isn’t fair to me and other employees who desperately need their help. Should I handle this differently? Yes, I think it would be good for you to be more open with potential new hires. Even though you need warm bodies and sharp minds, selling these folks a bill of goods won’t work once they learn the true story.
As a matter of fact, you may be doing them a disservice by not giving them a more balanced picture of what they will find. New employees aren’t likely to find working at your company as demoralizing as do those of you who have been worn down by your boss’s rigidity. Aren’t there ways to describe the challenges of working in your organization without painting a totally bleak picture?
At the same time, I would encourage you to brainstorm ways of improving the corporate culture created by your boss’s power-hoarding. You may find some ideas in The Courageous Follower: Standing Up to and for Our Leaders (Berrett-Koehler, 2003), where author Ira Chaleff suggests ways to confront oblivious or intransigent bosses whose leadership style is undermining the organization’s mission.
Try to get together with your boss to discuss improving internal growth opportunities so you can recruit new employees more successfully. If he resists your suggestions, don’t give up. Considering the substantial costs of recruitment and training, as well as the effect on clients of a high turnover rate, he should be able to see the value of improving retention. He might be willing to call in a management consultant or conduct a staff retreat to explore solutions.
Adopting this two-pronged approach–constructively confronting your boss while being more honest with potential new employees–will begin to breathe air into what has become a stultifying system. You may find, of course, that none of your attempts to open up your company has any impact. If so, it may be time for you to look for greener pastures yourself.
Keeping this option in mind will make you feel less trapped and help lighten your spirit, even if you decide to continue working there.
Years ago, my client lent a friend $10,000 to help him recover from bankruptcy. Although the friend is doing fine now, he hasn’t repaid the loan. My client is furious but won’t ask for repayment, claiming that nagging the man would ruin their friendship. I can’t believe it’s good for my client to let his resentment fester. Can this “friendship” be saved? See if you can draw out your client more fully about how this unacknowledged “elephant in the room” is affecting the relationship with his friend.
Through gentle confrontation, I would try to help him realize that his pretense of ignoring the debt isn’t doing him or his friend a favor. By speaking up, he may be able to defuse an emotional conflict that could otherwise erupt and destroy the friendship for good. Maybe you can tell him about similar situations where smoldering feelings of resentment eventually bubbled up and exploded.
Ask your client why he thinks his friend hasn’t repaid the loan or even mentioned the outstanding debt. Perhaps he’s still struggling with financial difficulties. Could he be deferring repayment on the assumption that your client would have spoken up if he needed the money back now? Might he simply have forgotten?
If your client is uncomfortable about mentioning the debt to his friend, you could offer to help him role-play the encounter or discuss different ways to handle the discussion. For example, he could invite the friend to lunch and confess that the unpaid loan makes him feel distant and awkward when they are together. Another possibility is to write a note, though I think this is less desirable because he can’t see his friend’s response, or have a back-and-forth discussion that helps resolve the tension.