Many leaders like to think they are doing right by the organization and the people. They want to see the glass half-full and believe they’re headed in the right direction. The reality, however, is often much different than the perception.
Some real-life examples:
Perception: “That meeting went great – everyone seemed excited about the ideas we came up with!”
Reality: After the meeting, people gossiped about how you pushed your ideas while shutting almost everyone else’s down.
Perception: “From everything that’s happening in the organization, it’s clear that we’re really walking the talk when it comes to equity and inclusion.”
Reality: Employees silently thought how, while some of them walked the talk, you and most of the leadership team most definitely did not walk the talk. Ironically, people frequently talked about how the way you treated people was the exact opposite of equity and inclusion.
Perception: “We truly care about our employees.”
Reality: Employees thought you saying that was a cliche public marketing slogan and maybe an attempt to convince employees that it was really true. Instead, even if the public bought it, employees generally didn’t think you or the company cared about them at all and often felt belittled, micromanaged, and expendable.
Unfortunately, these examples are typical of many leaders I’ve worked with. Although there are many possible reasons for these blind spots, the bottom line is that leaders who are disconnected from what’s really going on will only create harm and take the organization down the wrong path. Therefore, as a leader, it’s crucial to know what’s really true instead of assuming that you know.
A simple way to do that: ask.
Instead of assuming what others think and feel, ask them a few simple questions:
- “What’s one thing you appreciate about the direction we’re taking?”
- “What is one thing I could do to support you better?”
- “How do you think we could improve ______ (meeting, plan, event, etc.)?”
The important part? Listen to and act on the responses. Just asking the questions without follow-up will erode trust even further. People might not share much at first, especially if you and/or the organization has a history of broken trust. In fact, the degree to which they’ll share often demonstrates how much trust they have in you and/or the organization.
Be patient and consistent without being pushy. Listen without defense. Acknowledge feedback and immediately put it into practice. If you do these things often and with sincerity, you’ll start to get the information you need to be a successful leader.
In future posts, I’ll go into more depth about ways you can ask for feedback and create a culture that will lead to more honest responses.