Let me tell you one of the primary traits of great leaders. They are feedback hounds. They want information. They want perspective. They want to know how what they lead is experienced by the outside world. It is almost an obsession with them. And it serves them well.
They know that most of the great leaders in history did just this. Churchill walked the streets of England asking questions and listening to the opinions of the common folk. Eisenhower was known to show up in the barracks and tents of his troops and sit for half an hour listening to the views of a private. As I’ve said here before, King Hussein of Jordan used to drive a taxi around the streets of Amman to hear the gossip, jokes, political views, and fears of his people.
I will tell you though that most leaders prefer a bubble. They like being insulated from disturbing truth, and they aren’t willing to expend any energy to unearth disturbing facts. They prefer illusions to harsh reality, being happily deceived to being painfully informed. They don’t really want to improve, don’t really want to excel.
The people I admire, though, are people who go to great lengths to be disturbed. They fear their own comfort, their own bubble. They also know that “Yes Men” and sycophants keep the truth from them. So, they go rogue. They get the feedback they need by any means necessary. I call it “Going Hussein,” after King Hussein’s example.
The owner of a chain of stores I know asked his teenaged son to enlist his friends in filming their experience at his stores. Most did it secretly. Some did not. The results were horrifying. But he fixed the problems and the chain grew and became more profitable. Then the owner commissioned his next youngest child to do the same. Good news mixed with bad. He fixed it. Then he did it again. And again. And again.
I know a pastor who had some folks who didn’t attend his church record everything they could about attending a service or a class, calling the office, asking for financial help, etc. He was horrified by the results. He fixed it. The church grew. He also did it again and again. The church has doubled.
I know a CEO who has actually offered customers free merchandise if they ever photograph or video anything that will improve his firm’s services. He even extends this offer to his employees. He also uses the traditional feedback forms and phone surveys. He’s obsessed. And very, very successful. Yet it has come at the expense of some sleepless nights after he realized all was not as he thought it was.
It’s a simple truth really. If we are sincere, we lead better if we have information, no matter how surprising and unpleasant it is. I have worked out all my life. Now, I work out with an Apple watch on my wrist. The dang thing spies on me. It gives me more information than I want about my workouts and it keeps records over months. It also sends the reports of my workouts to a friend. This buddy literally calls me if he sees I haven’t been working out for a day or two and he doesn’t know why. You know what’s happening? I’m getting in better shape. I’m doing smarter exercises. I’m making sure my heart rate gets where it needs to be. I’m eating better. Why? Feedback.
Don’t hide from hard truth. Seek it out. Be bold. Be courageous. Risk the sleepless night. Success is on the other side of it all.