It’s Tough at the Top #1: Nurture those who speak truth to your power

If you’re new to this series, be sure to read our brief intro on what this series is about.

Over the years, we’re found that regardless of your what your organizational chart suggests, leaders exist at all levels of an organization. In some cases, we even find no relation between title and leadership ability. The lesson we learned from this is that executives need to identify those who speaks truth to their power, and tap these built-in “disruptors” to make more informed decisions.

A common reaction we receive to this point of view is “I’m aware of this phenomenon, but communicating with them is my leadership team’s responsibility”. Yes, every business school recognizes and teaches that leaders are most effective when they surround themselves with a minimum of 2 trusted and respected direct reports. The problem is that failure rates to this approach are very high. In a recent report from the Harvard Business Review, a survey found that less than 33% of executives trusted their direct reports. For you, and your business, this is an alarming reality that must be mitigated.

At the same time, we agree that micro-managing outcomes is unrealistic and therefore not a viable solution, yet the “devil remains in the details” and decisions lacking the benefit of detailed consideration have a much higher risk of failure.

So what’s a viable solution?

We’ve tested, and repeatedly proven, that identifying and consulting staff with formulated questions, who speak knowledgeably and who are forthcoming is a potent tactic for improving business decision-making, improving morale, and delivering superior outcomes.

Let’s look more closely at the three essential elements to success that are underlined above:

  1. The use of formulated questions. Take a moment to consider your pending decisions, informational blind spots, and to formulate what open-ended questions might yield fruitful insight.
  2. Consulting staff who speak knowledgeably. Opinions and complaints have a place, but fail to add value in decision making. Seek out individuals who respond concretely, and with preparation and facts, when you ask what led them to their point of view.
  3. Individuals who are forthcoming. Yes, it’s a simple reality that employees rely on your judgements and biases for their livelihood and that of their families. At the same time there is alot of research that reveals people’s real motivation to work is actually in your favor. I subscribe to Dan Pink’s finding that Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery are what we seek from work (after our financial needs are met). What better way to allow them to flex those muscles than through a substantive conversation with an executive such as yourself?

In closing, I’ll confess there are two main barriers to successfully applying these tactics: overcoming your personal hubris as an executive and overcoming a fear that you will only create an employee complaint box. Fortunately, with a bit of introspection on the leadership traits you would like to exhibit and some well-tuned questions, you can overcome these barriers and cultivate an organizational culture of speaking truth to power…making it just a tad bit easier for you, at the top.

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