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Game of the Month Kill the Messenger

Kill the Messenger

Kill_the_messengerKilling the messenger is an ancient tradition: you take out your frustration on the people bringing you bad news, rather than on those who have created it. This is a game of kings, and it is also a game for leaders who lack a tolerance for negative information. Being able to absorb and learn from negative events is a critical skill for leaders today, yet rather than develop this skill, they play Kill the Messenger. The end result of this game is that people fi lter their reports to the boss, taking out any reportage that might engender an outburst. These leaders then operate from an unrealistically optimistic perspective; they think things are going great and are unable to plan for downturns or competitors’ moves.
Example: Forbasaw, a senior vice president with a marketing services agency, played Kill the Messenger whenever one of her people would tell her something about the fi rm’s clients that she didn’t want to hear. Instead of listening quietly and analyzing objectively, she would always respond with an accusation along the lines of “The bad news you’re telling me is a result of your not staying on top of the account.” In other words, Forbasaw couldn’t accept that clients would be unhappy for any reason except that their representative was doing a bad job. Of course, her people learned not to communicate clients’ unhappiness, so Forbasaw operated in a blissful bubble, thinking that everything was going fine when in fact there were serious problems with a number of clients but her team was now playing No Bad News.

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Games of the Month

Token Involvement

To play Token Involvement, a manager conducts opinion surveys, focus group, or involvement meetings to communicate that "your opinion matters", but these activities are done only to make people feel involved rather than actually to involve them. The real intention is just to get rid of the complaints and for managers to show their management that they´re doing the "right" thing-involving their people in the decision-making process. The same game is played when leaders involve their direct reports supercially, soliciting their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on their views on department strategy but relying exclusively on thei own view. Cynicism becomes employees´ultimate response to this game, and they lose respect for management. Perhaps evens worse, when management really needs employees to be committed and contribuing to a major project, they have great difficulty securing this involvement.


Praise for Games at Work

jacopoA terrific read not only for senior leaders and executives but also for employees seeking growth in complex organizations. Goldstein and Read dissect the interpersonal dynamics that affect a company’s performance, provide a framework to understand the games that are commonly played in businesses around the world, and offer practical tools to correct these behaviors and improve the organization’s effectiveness.

Jacopo Bracco Executive Vice President DIRECTV Latin America

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