Don’t Lead Like An Ostrich – Seek the Truth

Beth Miller |

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When you move up the corporate ladder, you discover that it is harder to find the real truth. Often, employees may not trust that their managers will back them up if they voice bad news or difficult information. They would rather keep their jobs by keeping their mouths shut. But as a leader, it is important to know, where there are issues to be addressed, where you may need to adjust your leadership style, and what information critical to business decisions may be delayed. Without feedback from those dealing with day-to-day business, your business is at risk. 

So, how do you create an environment where conversations are encouraged between you and your employees, rather than shut down? Ask yourself these questions: 

1. Who challenges and changes you on your team? 

If you can’t answer this question, you may have a problem. You always have room to develop, just as much as your subordinates do, and if you have not created an environment of trust and transparency then employees wont be a part of that your growth by challenging and questioning you. “The major reason people don’t give the boss feedback is they’re worried that the boss will retaliate because they know that most of us have trouble accepting negative feedback,” says Linda Hill, a professor at Harvard Business School. This is where soliciting feedback becomes your responsibility as a leader—you must constantly be putting your ego aside and asking for feedback from your employees on how things could be improved, especially you and your leadership. Once they are comfortable with the general idea of providing their viewpoint, you can start asking for more specific examples of what needs improvement. 

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2. How and when is bad news delivered to you? 

If you have an employee who is comfortable speaking up, make sure that your reaction is a positive one, or you will discourage future attempts to talk. Thank employees for their contributions and willingness to be transparent. Let them know that you recognize how important it is to have up-to-date information, even if is not as positive as you wish had anticipated. If the person is taking a risk by sharing information, make it clear that no-retribution will take place and that everyone mistakes. Having the emotional intelligence to admit that you can be wrong and benefit from others’ ideas shows your employees they have a boss they can trust. 

3. What do you do with the information you receive?

When you are given feedback or bad news, what do you do with it? Do you demonstrate positive acceptance by smiling and/or nodding and show you value the feedback? No one wants to feel like the risk they took in speaking up was for nothing. So as a leader show that you value the information and will take the necessary action based on the new information.it will only breed resentment that their ideas are not valued, and extrapolating from that, perhaps their position with the company. Instead, provide all support you can for the person giving feedback: nothing can happen to that person. If your relationship with them becomes chilly or awkward, or they are penalized in some way, word will get around the company and everybody will know what happens to someone who says anything.  After that, make sure you act on the employee’s concern; if they have suggested an improvement, demonstrate that you are investigating the feasibility of making such an improvement, and if it is possible, take action. “If you want people to feel that it’s really worth their while to be honest with you, change your behavior as a result of what you hear,” says Erica Anderson, founder of Proteus International. Letting your employees feel like they are a crucial part in the evolution of the company and their voice matters keeps them loyal and keeps them at their best. Everyone wants to know that they matter.

As a leader, be aware of how you are viewed by your employees. Your position can be perceived as one of power and privilege. Because of this, you may not have to worry about being taken seriously and having your voice respected without retribution. So make sure to check your privilege instead of taking your position for granted, and show emotional intelligence by putting yourself in the shoes of those who could give you the feedback to make your company the best it can be (while creating a deeper bond between you and the people who are the most invested in your company).

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Beth Miller

Beth Miller

Beth Armknecht Miller’s passion for learning, and dedication to helping others, are strands woven throughout her distinguished career, which continue to guide her work with Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. As a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer, Beth holds herself to a rigorous standard of excellence, and she encourages her clients to do the same when pursuing their goals.

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