As we start this Leading Thoughts, I want to ask you to ponder a question. Here it is: What is your attitude when your team reports troubling facts about your firm or your leadership?
I really mean that. You should ponder this. Take a minute. Look up from this screen or page, and answer this question for yourself. How do you regard difficult or challenging news about what you lead?
You see, as I’ve said here before, great leaders are feedback addicts. They want to know the truth no matter how difficult, and they want to know it consistently, fully, regardless of the form in which it arrives.
There is a posture toward this kind of feedback that I’ve seen some leaders maintain, a posture that has diminished them and kept them from greatness. It is the attitude that hard truth is betrayal, that somehow people in their firm aren’t loyal if they surface problems or report challenges.
These leaders create a culture around them that repels or resents the reporting of troubling facts, and that almost punishes those who report them. The result is a culture of “happy talk,” of ineffectiveness due to a refusal to determine reality, and an attracting of less capable, less honest, less intelligent, and less visionary people to the firm.
Let me list some core truths about the kind of leaders who build such flawed cultures.
First, you can be sure they are insecure. They don’t move from strength to strength but from appearance to appearance, from staging to staging. They are not courageous and fierce. They process information in terms of their own self-doubts, their own uncertainties about who they are and what they ought to do.
Second, leaders who build this kind of culture are tired. The surfacing of problems just adds to their weariness and so they react negatively.
Third, this kind of culture does not summon the best from your team. They start keeping parts of themselves in check, knowing that putting their full gifts into play will only bring them trouble. In time, they will leave for some other firm that welcomes all they are.
Fourth, the firm will not achieve its potential. Problems will be plastered over. Growth will freeze. Innovation will cease. The leader and the firm will eventually realize they are idling, treading water, and perhaps even slowly dying.
Please hear me on this for your own sake. I want you to be a success. I want your firm to thrive. You have to welcome the surfacing of problems. You have to be a feedback hound. You must want to know anything that will help your leadership and your firm improve.
This is important. Take a look at how you deal with less than thrilling news. If your attitude is not, “Well, this is hard to hear, but I’m grateful to know the truth so we can fix it,” and you lean instead toward, “Why the hell did you tell me this? I don’t want to hear this stuff. What is wrong with you?”—then you are in trouble and it is time to make a change. You’ll know what to do when you arrive at the truth about yourself.