Ed Toner

Hide and Watch

“Hide and watch” is a Texas expression that I use, and yet no one from Nebraska has called me out for using it or asked me what it means. However, “hide and watch” is one of those idioms with multiple implications that changes meanings depending on the situation. Without doubt the phrase always means much more than one would assume. Like many terms from the south (ie: “bless your heart”) “hide and watch” has definite negative implications in certain situations, and in other situations its meaning has truly positive intentions. I will admit the negative use of the phrase far outweighs the positive, in both life and in practice.

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On the negative side “hide and watch” is used when you intentionally do not intervene in a situation. You may be keeping a low profile, or you are letting a condition run its course to observe what happens, but you don’t lend a hand to assist in anyway. How often have you been in a situation where you see a teammate struggling with staying on top of their work and instead of assisting with coaching or providing advice you simply sit back and observe and then criticize later? This version of hiding and watching hurts the person who needs the helping hand and ultimately the organization. I have confidence that we at the OCIO decide a genuine and constructive offer of assistance is the best path forward.

Another negative context for this Texan phrase is when you actively and professionally try to do the right thing and intervene to prevent failure. You notice a person or group making a poor decision and provide guidance and direction, however the decision-maker can’t be swayed or you feel it’s useless to try to change their minds. In these cases the assistance is often ignored and sometimes ridiculed, even when those offering the assistance possess more experience or a deeper insight. If after several attempts to provide guidance they still don’t want to reevaluate the situation, you pull away and distance yourself from the decision… then you are hiding and watching.

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In the second context, you might inappropriately feel the safest thing is to remain uninvolved and try not to be a part of any of the ultimate blame to come. In the technology arena this is all too often the case. People or teams get committed to a steadfast course and don’t see the sometimes obvious flaws in their thinking. This could be due to flawed overconfidence, or arrogance, or both. In order for each of us to be successful in our careers and in life we must fight the natural urge as technologists to always be right, and force ourselves to sincerely open up to others’ differing views-- not so that we can prove the other views wrong, but so that we can be assured we are making the best decision. The best way to know you are making the best decision is to look not simply at the project or task that is being worked on, but to look at the State and the enterprise as a whole.

The positive meaning of “hide and watch” is my preferred use. The positive context brings back good memories for me, and is the one my parents, friends or mentors have always used when trying to advise me to be silent and truly observe what is going on in a particular situation. They wanted me to fully understand the setting I was in, take in all the data points I may have been missing in my rush to get an answer, and develop a theory as to why something was happening. By taking this advice, I have learned how my team performs particular tasks and why. I have learned that a good leader observes areas where they can be most helpful to the team and offers input to help the team evaluate their own process. Leaders who do not learn to hide and watch in this way may be failing their teams because they have not taken the time to fully understand the internal dynamics and subtleties of the team.

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As always, I appreciate your continued service to the citizens of Nebraska.

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