One of the dentists I worked for back when I was in the Navy told us about how his brother got his kids to stay in their beds at night. When tucking them in, he simply told them:
“If I have to come back in here, I’m going to let the man out of the closet!”
This was all it took to keep them in line. I’m not sure when they realized there was no man in the closet, but wouldn’t it have been sad if at age 18, they still feared the man in the closet?
In my work with organizations, I’m often told that such and such idea wouldn’t work because you “can’t go there” with certain individuals. For some reason, this individual or group of individuals has some sort of power that everyone fears, thus nobody has the courage to confront it.
After probing for a while, I often find that their version of “the man in the closet” really doesn’t exist. It’s just a believable excuse to NOT take a risk or put that great idea out there. It gets worse when people fear making a decision that could benefit the company because they’ve heard that the decision would be shot down by someone. It all boils down to irrational fear.
So what should you do if you deal with “the man in the closet?”
- For executives: Get out of your office and make the rounds on the floor. Talk to your employees. Tell them the company vision and let them know you need not only their hard work, but their suggestions for improvement as well. Let them know that you’ll personally take those suggestions seriously.
- For managers: Quit being afraid and take some risks for your team. They depend on you to run ideas up the chain or address their concerns. Don’t let them down.
- For individual contributors: Don’t allow somebody else’s fear impact your willingness and need to get something done. It may involve taking a risk to challenge the “man in the closet” but that’s far better than simply shying away in case he really does exist.
This week, how about moving from irrational fear to focused accomplishment. The “man in the closet” will take care of himself. Don’t allow him to hold you back.