General counsel may inadvertently discourage bad news and overlook their chilling effect

“In 360-degree surveys, managers typically rate themselves higher than their colleagues do on most measures of performance.” We all flatter ourselves. More specifically, based on a survey of over 4,000 US managers reported in the Harv. Bus. Rev., Vol. 86, April 2008 at 22, the gap is widest when it comes to managers gauging their receptiveness to hearing about difficult issues.

For law departments, this finding suggests that general counsel (indeed, all lawyers with reports) often overestimate their openness to receiving difficult messages or bad news. At the same time, they are likely to underestimate the extent to which their power advantage discourages subordinates from speaking their minds (See my post of Dec. 8, 2006: a GC’s chilling effect.). They may be sending subtle signals – or blazingly obvious ones – that discourage frank input.

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