No matter how hard you try to create a safe, egalitarian atmosphere in your workplace, you are still the boss or, at the very least, a major influencer. When people realize this fact, what they say to you becomes delivered through that lens. Surprised that you never hear bad news until it’s too late? Don’t be. The more power you have, the less you’ll hear about problems.
Phil asks Malika: “What do you think of the new bonus plan that I announced this morning?” Is Malika really doing to tell Phil that she thinks it’s convoluted and unfair? Understand that getting unfiltered, 100 % honest feedback is all too often a false hope. In a typical organization, problems are scrubbed and softened as they ascend the organizational hierarchy, with each messenger seeking to temper the message, particularly if something in the message may reflect negatively on them. As a result, you may be living in a happy bubble in which everything is perfect and all your ideas are wonderful.
“How are things?” the leader asks. “Great,” says the division manager, sales rep, department head, HR vice president (you fill in the blanks). “Wonderful,” says the leader. “Keep up the good work.”
In reality, market share is eroding, people are leaving, and the front line employees are treating customers poorly. But no one wants to be the one to break the bad news. Some experts refer to this phenomenon as CEO Disease!
Power always creates distance. But you can work to establish an environment where the gap isn’t quite so wide. How do you narrow the chasm? If you want an honest assessment of a problem, seek out bad news. Welcome it. And when it comes, show your appreciation.
Always be aware of your reaction to bad news—both verbal and nonverbal.
If you attempt to establish a culture of truth and openness, the first time you shoot the messenger will be the last time you get an unfiltered response from that person.
- Welcome bad news.
- Express your appreciation to those who give you honest answers.
- Monitor your reactions carefully—both verbal and nonverbal.
- Share information with your employees; let them know the effects their candid communication.
Pay attention to your stress reactions.
Open and honest interaction from your employees may not always make you happy. At times, bad news may come when you are already under stress from a variety of sources. One of the hallmarks of leadership is consistency, and, fair or not, we hold leaders to higher standards. A leader who “loses it” or has a meltdown in front of employees loses credibility but, even more importantly, can widen the gap of power distance.
You may not ever eliminate the power factor completely that hampers completely open dialogue, but you can lessen its impact considerably. In the long run, the conscious effort leaders make to create safe and open communication environment will pay significant dividends and establish an atmosphere where employees feel ownership for the success of the organization.