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Ignore words of warning at your peril

gg blog

By Graeme Gordon

Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person? I’ve always considered myself a “Why not fill the glass?” sort of individual. However, the other day I was made to re-evaluate my attitude and the values of both options thanks to an extraordinary contribution from a colleague.

I was very enthusiastic about a project but was brought up short by a colleague’s immediate words of caution. “Crumbs,” I said to myself, or words to that effect, “Why can’t they just see the benefits of this?”

At first, I thought the cautionary comments were quite unjust, especially given this particular colleague is not a natural pessimist. But when I stopped to consider what was said, I realised that the comments were not only worthy of consideration but also extremely important to the overall success of the project.

All my colleague was trying to do was to ensure we were not bitten by the project and therefore had actually learned from previous such issues.

It turns out most of the potential issues highlighted had already been considered by me and my front-line team but there was one key area we had not considered. Had my colleague not spoken up we could have had a major issue to deal with.

So, I went back to them and apologised if I seemed dismissive or in any way uninterested in their concerns. With hindsight, I realised my knee-jerk reaction had indeed been one of a jerk.

I would hope all my colleagues know they can speak up if they have concerns or ask questions. None of us are omnipotent and we should always welcome reasoned thoughtful criticism and the chance to double check important points.

As I was always told when working in the building trade, “Measure (at least) twice so you only cut once!”

Failing to heed words of warning can be calamitous, as Greek mythology has shown us. Nobody listened to Cassandra, the prophet who foretold of the consequences of Paris taking Helen away from King Menelaus of Sparta and the subsequent Greek attack leading to the fall of Troy. Admittedly, Cassandra had been cursed by the Gods not to be believed but her warnings proved accurate and Troy fell, and all because no one listened to what she said.

It is important to remember that we are all fallible and we all need to take heed of cautionary advice no matter how advanced our plans may be, especially those of us in senior management positions.

Taking on board words of caution could save us considerable money and time in the long run, not to mention encouraging members of a team to come forward when they have concerns.

I write this on my way home from a successful conference in Sydney, which was followed by the World Congress of Accountants. Australia is perhaps the most optimistic country I have been to in many years. And with good cause. Yet they are very willing to listen and learn from others. Next year we will be in Athens, in Greece, another country brimming with optimism despite their recent woes.

If I take only one thing away from these words of caution, and from the wonderful time in Sydney, it is that I hope I never forget that not only my peers, but each and every one of my team has something valuable to offer.