Someone I work with has a collection of “Leadership Principles” on the wall of her office.  Usually, these bulleted batches of business bromides are a mixed bag at best, but this one has an entry that really stands out for me:

  • Get all the liars in one room
Ever been working on getting a project done and run into a deadly embrace of dependencies?  Alice can’t because she needs something from Bob.  Bob can’t because Carl hasn’t provided the test results, and of course poor Carl can’t because he’s stuck waiting for… you guessed it… Alice!

Now since they have all used the worst four-letter word in the English language, “can’t”, you know that they are all liars.  How do you know this?  Well, when you hear the word “can’t” you almost always are being lied to.  After all, you have not made a request that violates the laws of physics.  So what does “can’t” really mean?  I think, the majority of the time, “I can’t” means, “I don’t wanna.”  And “You can’t” means, “I don’t want you to.”

If you press someone (and they are willing to explain further), you find not an absolute inability but a decision made based on the imbalance between what you are asking for and how much they care about making you happy.  If a customer service rep on the phone starts using “can’t” you have gotten to the point where your need has exceeded the value of your business to that company.  Time to look for a new supplier.

When a bunch of co-workers are treating you like this, assuming the objective is something that really is a goal of your business, it’s time to get all of them at once where they have to look at one another.  Gleefully blaming another is not so easy when that other is sitting there and he looks up from his phone if his name is mentioned.  The object of this meeting is for everyone to commit to finishing something in the full knowledge that anyone else in that room will immediately blame them for the overall failure, should such an unthinkable thing occur.