Do No Harm

The other night, my wife and I had dinner with my former manager. He has always been a student of business and provides great insight.

In his last interview, he was asked by the CIO what the first priority would be upon taking over the position he was interviewing for. His answer: “Do no harm.”

Think about that for a minute. Don’t make things worse by showing up. Don’t immediately shake up the troops so their work would be harmed.

Sure, as a leader, you will have to work initiatives, bring about change, and grow your team. But first, do no harm.

Yes, he got the job.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Actually, a third alternative — there are usually a few good things that are being done in an area or department with at least some good people doing the work. So “do no harm” is to make sure we don’t wreck the good just for the sake of change.

    I agree with your points in that a new manager has to establish identity and need to perform, but too often a manager new to a department will change everything without regard for what is good — making things worse and causing harm.

    Thanks for the comment; it’s a good one. I appreciate it.

  • Scot –

    Forgive me for commenting before reading a bigger handful of your postings. But this one catches my attention. So, I’m jumping in with a comment.

    If you’re advising “do no harm” with a degree of tongue in cheek, good for you. I agree.

    If by DNH you lay emphasis on “harm” and want/warn new managers not to ripple the waters or ruffle the feathers of the workforce just for the fun of doing it, again I agree completely.

    But if you and your former manager mean that the new manager should go with the flow so completely as to

    a) create no personal profile for all to see,
    b) indicate that change will be minor or none and so lull employees into (continued?) complacency,
    c) get along by going along with what’s gone before,

    then I offer this counter thought:

    Employees look for demonstrable, significant identity in any new manager. True, they are not looking for someone to harm their status quo (aka “comfort zone”). However, they are anticipating change…the change that the new manager presumably brings on board.

    To lay low thanks to an overeager desire to do no harm, may generate unease in the workforce who keep on waiting…waiting…waiting for the good news of a new manager.

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