I have recently changed careers and one of my new responsibilities has been to conduct a series of telephone explorations with a wide variety of team members from a variety of companies. These conversations have revolved around what is going well and what not so well in their teams and business areas. I have been impressed with everybody’s openness and honesty with me during those calls. It has always been borne of a desire to improve – to improve relationships, to improve energy management, to improve output, to be more efficient and so on. Nobody has been honest and open with me because they want to take a pop at somebody or because they want to gain an advantage over a colleague, yet almost without fail, each conversation has finished with the interviewee apologising for their openness and saying, “I’m sorry if I have appeared overly negative.”
Those closing statements made me look back at my last job, where I was an internal consultant with a clear and explicit brief to be prepared to speak truth unto power. I realise now that when out and about, I was regularly acting as an Agony Aunt, hearing the honest conversation that those I was talking to wanted to have with their bosses. The same has applied here.
So, what is it that stops us from doing so? Fear! Fear of being seen as negative, fear of not being seen as on-board with the newest shiny idea; fear of being perceived as closed to progress and new ideas, fear of being seen as the one who stifles the energy and most of all, fear of the consequence of that perception (promotion, opportunity, reward, security and on it goes). In short, fear that our boss will see us through a negative lens and that nothing will change so there is no point in taking the risk.
So, why do leaders get irritated by open and honest comment? Because they are busy, because they have external pressures being brought to bear, because they believe that they have too little time to deal with things as they would wish, because deadlines are looming, because it will create more work when they thought the project was over and because they too have concerns about how they will be perceived and judged.
I know and believe this because I too have been there but this is a list of excuses and reasons, there is only one cause – our leadership. We, as leaders have allowed the fears to grow and dominate our minds and the minds of those we are meant to be leading. Young officers in the Army are taught that leadership is about doing the right thing on a difficult day when no-one is watching. Often that right thing is creating an environment where people can speak, listening to them without judgement, acknowledging their comments and observations and being prepared to do the right thing no matter what the pain. It’s worth it in the long run because improvement is always at the root of an honest conversation but it won’t happen without your leadership. How about committing to it today?
If you’d like us to help your leaders develop further, then contact the iTS Leadership team today.
Author: Tim Sandiford