All leaders need a combination of feedback and information. If you are in the rare position of regularly receiving open and honest feedback and complete information, celebrate and pass this article by. As a manager, you are generally only getting partial information, and rare personal feedback. That creates a problem for planning, decision making, relationships and career growth.
Do you ever find yourself in your role as leader being regarded as more of a “boss”? Even in your best efforts to be accessible and approachable, the very fact that you have a title and perceived sway over those in your corporate hierarchy, creates a bubble. That bubble around you creates an obstacle to the information needed to be effective and manage appropriately. What’s worse, that bubble’s barrier becomes stronger as you try to obtain feedback to make you self-aware and relevant with the people you lead. What happens is self-protection (theirs) leads to information withhold.
Personal lessons in this can come in the form of teenagers. My teenagers, who are adults now, would regularly attempt to withhold information. Sound familiar? It’s a natural process of wanting to protect their identities and their ways of being. Frankly, I’m glad I didn’t know EVERYTHING at the time as history can be kinder than present moment freak outs!
Let’s translate this to employees. You are likely to experience identity protection, trust issues, withholding of information and details. The desire for independence is strong and the desire to be regarded favorably is high.
In the absence of information, you make assumptions about what they think and believe about job, company and you as a leader. You then make assumptions about what they are doing. You might be surprised to find that you are off the mark.
What’s a boss to do? What’s a leader to do? Here are four steps that will help.
Step One: Be available
An executive’s life can get busy. Remember the theory of “management by walking around” first popularized by Tom Peters? It has merit. Apple’s Steve Jobs was famous for it. In today’s modern world of email and text, this action is surprisingly under-utilized. You will be most effective if you make a habit (put it on your calendar) and personally interact to reinforce values, culture and promote problem solving.
Step Two: Ask curious questions
Be known as a curious person. Ask questions and then deeply listen. As you listen, the information you need could be wedged in between the responses. Let your instinct guide you and know that your goal is to personally interact, reinforce values and build relationships. A great question can yield a diamond mine of knowledge – about you personally or about your assessment of a situation.
Step Three: Check your assumptions and reactions at the door
You may hear things that trigger you. Take a deep breath. If your team sees you reacting, it will cause them to shut down. Nobody wants to make the boss angry. Stay curious (about your trigger, too!). Remember that you are not likely to have all the information, and that will lead you to making assumptions. Go back to step two and ask curious questions to understand completely. This keeps you out of judgment and out of the dreaded micro-managing.
Step Four: Cultivate trusted advisors
You may do steps one through three and still not be told the entire truth, simply because of the position you are in. Who inside your company is your right-hand person who will tell you the truth, no matter the cost to them? And how do you respond to that truth (see step three above). Who outside your company is a trusted advisor to you – coaching you, supporting you to see the truth, developing self-awareness to strengthen you as a leader? Cultivate an internal trusted advisor who can come from a neutral and helpful place and hire a coach today!
As you practice these steps overtime, you will notice trust strengthens. You will find more people willing to share with you. The ripple effect will create teams willing to be authentic and truthful with each other. You will see a focus on problem-solving and hear your values echo back to you.
Walk around. Meet people in the break room. Have the skip level meeting. Ask personally instead of by email. Chat with teams. Chat one on one. Do this without motive. That’s the power of curiosity. No matter the information, whether troubling or delightful, treasure it and use it wisely.
Pop the bubble and see what happens for you.
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