How Did This Happen?
Mark stared at the floor, his jaw clenched in frustration.
I was sitting with a leader who had just crashed and burned. He’d made a decision that had cost him his reputation and maybe his job.
He looked up at me and with a quiet whisper, Mark asked, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
The sad part was that it didn’t have to happen this way. People in his organization knew it wasn’t a good call…
But he never heard their feedback.
Are You Wearing New Clothes?
People in positions of power often sabotage themselves and create environments where no one will tell them the truth – often difficult truths about themselves.
Even so, leaders and managers have to make difficult and important decisions. In order to make the best decisions possible, you need to have as much meaningful information as possible.
The old Hans Christian Andersen story of the Emperor’s New Clothes is based on this unfortunate tendency of leaders who no longer hear truth. If it’s been a while since you heard this tale, I won’t ruin it for you, except to say it results in the Emperor parading naked up and down the street after two tailors take advantage of him.
6 Ways to Not Walk Naked Down the Street
Here are six ways to ensure you have the truth you need (and don’t end up walking naked down the street):
1. Ask for the Truth
Regularly encourage dialog in your team. Ask people to teach you one thing you didn’t know. Become a person known for caring what’s really going on.
2. Say Thank You
When someone shares a hard truth, especially about you, thank them for having the courage, taking the time, and caring enough to share it with you.
If you ask for input, take time to respond. Even if not every idea is actionable, acknowledging that the ideas were heard and considered increases the likelihood of hearing more in the future.
4. Never Ever Shoot the Messenger
If someone has the heart and courage to bring you a difficult truth, even if you vehemently disagree, bite your lip. If you attack them, they probably will never bring you another concern.
5. Find Your Truth-Tellers
There are people who understand their team, environment, or processes and are willing to voice their observations. Find these people, keep in regular communication, and let them know you value their observations.
6. Look In the Mirror
If you suspect you are not hearing the truth from those around you, it is time to look in the mirror and examine how you are interacting with others. I would bet you are not doing one or more of the first four items on this list.
If you are struggling to see it, ask others for input, find a mentor, or consider a leadership coach.
It may take time, but if you consistently ask for the truth, show gratitude for input, and respond to it, you will earn trust, gain credibility, and have the information you need to make the best decisions.
Which step will you take to make sure you get the feedback you need to be effective?
David M. Dye, leadership speaker and business consultant, is the author of The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. To learn more about David, or comment on this article, visit www.trailblazeinc.com.
How to Lead When Your Employees Don’t Have to Follow
by David M. Dye (posted by Bankers’ Bank of the West with the author’s permission)
How long can you hold your breath?
Better yet, unless it’s dangerous to your health, try it right now: hold your breath as long as you can.
How long did you make it? 30 seconds, one minute, maybe two? Before long, you couldn’t help yourself – you just had to breathe.
In fact, I could offer a huge incentive for you to hold your breath, but no matter how much money I offer, at some point you have no choice. Your body will force the issue.
The fundamental leadership truth you cannot ignore
There are only two things in the world that you have to do: breathe and eliminate waste. Every other behavior is a choice.
You choose how you show up to work each day: Will you give it your best or just occupy space and slide by? It’s a choice you make.
The fundamental leadership truth you cannot ignore is that if it’s a choice for you, it’s also a choice for your team. Everyone is a volunteer.
Show me the money?
You cannot force anyone to do anything.
“Wait a minute, David,” you might say, “if they don’t do their job they can be fired.”
You’re right of course, but that doesn’t change anything. They still have a choice about what they do and whether or not to remain on the team. Think about your own situation: to keep your job, there is a minimum effort you have to put in.
Oddly enough, I’ve never coached or worked with a single leader who wanted a team’s minimum effort. Of course not! As a leader you want motivated, committed, engaged teams. In short: teams that choose to give their best.
The path to engaged teams begins when you realize that everyone chooses:
- If they will be a part of your team.
- How they will show up.
- How much effort they will give.
- How well they will perform their role.
How to lead when they don’t have to follow
This fundamental truth — that everyone is a volunteer — will change your leadership forever. Every person on your team becomes a gift. Every action they take is a freely given gift. Every ounce of energy they expend on a project is a gift.
Your work as a leader shifts from force to invitation, from control to influence, from fear to gratitude. You won’t lead to wring out the worst, but to bring out the best.
Here are a few specific tools you can use to begin:
- Connect the “what” to the “why.” Work without meaning is a form of punishment suitable to prison camps. Make sure your team knows the purpose behind their tasks, the value in the organization’s work, and how their work makes a difference. If the work has no meaning — eliminate it!
- Ask “How can I help?” Your team needs support and training that only you can provide. Make sure they have the training, equipment, and political support they need to succeed. Don’t do their work for them, but help them grow and expand their ability to problem solve by asking critical thinking questions.
- Apologize when you screw up. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak. It demonstrates courage, builds your credibility, and models taking responsibility when you drop the ball. That’s what you want from your staff, right?
- Maintain standards and expectations. Volunteers, more than anyone, need to know that their time is valued. When you permit people to underperform without consequence, then you effectively tell everyone who chooses to do their best that they are wasting their time.
- Say “thank you.” Do you like what your team did? Do they know it? Do you want more of it? Don’t wait to say “thank you.”
If you think about your own performance, I’ll bet your best efforts were not the result of money or a fear of being fired.
Leave us a comment and let us know:
- How have your leaders brought out the best in you?
- How can you do the same for your team?
Everyone is a volunteer. Lead with gratitude!
David M. Dye, leadership speaker and business consultant, is the author of The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. He will deliver the luncheon keynote talk at the Bank Operations Conference(presented by Bankers’ Bank of the West) to be held in Denver on May 15. To learn more about David, or comment on this article, visit www.trailblazeinc.com.
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