By Alan J. Yeck

A letter of support was requested by a well-known, highly respected community entity for a grant they were submitting that would address extreme poverty in the area. They were not asking for anyone to commit to financial support or any type of in-kind resources but just a note on letterhead saying the project was worthwhile and that the business wholeheartedly supports it (not uncommon in grant applications at all). They had received several other letters already but because this organization actually participated with them in other community committees their support was a natural flow, or should have been a natural flow. These types of letters of support can easily be done by mid-level management but at this particular company ‘only the president has the authority to sign these.’ Fine, have the president sign it.

Weeks later this manager received an email reminder about the letter of support – the community organization still have not received anything from them and the deadline for submitting the grant was fast approaching. The mid-level manager had a meeting with the president that day and it would be mentioned in their discussions – ‘should not be a problem.’ That afternoon, after not hearing, it was brought back up again and they were told that the president was never asked to sign it. Why?

Fear.

This mid-level manager was told by a senior executive not to mention the grant to the president that day because she was upset with one of her vice presidents who didn’t do what he was supposed to do with a similar grant. The deadline passed and they did not provide the requested letter of support. The manager was left hung out to dry and had to face the organization that they didn’t help a few weeks later at another committee meeting. As far as they knew, it was the error of that person, their incompetence as to why they didn’t provide the letter of support – not fear of the president. They couldn’t say, “Oh, sorry but apparently the president’s leaders and managers are scared shitless of her so they never asked.”

In these types of requests, especially from community organizations, you must see in your mind’s eye what the local newspaper headlines could be – “This Company Refuses to Help the Poor of Our Community!” They not only did NOT help this organization with their anti-poverty program, they alienated themselves from them all together. There was no reason for them not to issue a letter of support other than internal incompetence that thrives on fear and affected the entire business.

Besides the micromanagement from the executive offices, the need for absolute control, the organizational culture was that of fear and job security. A culture of fear existed for mid-level managers and produced the exact results one would think; system-wide ineptitude.