Leaders have a unique ability to see what they want to see in their companies. They see their people working away yet never see the mounting frustration their approach to leadership is causing. As a result, trust erodes. Fiercely loyal employees begin to lose hope. Contamination spreads through the company’s culture. In coaching, the most difficult task of all is getting a leader to see that he or she is the root cause of what ails the company.
It’s not unusual for me to receive emails from employees reaching out for help with a leader who has run amuck. The following email typifies how quietly destructive a leader with blinders on can be to the very company they and their employees love.
“I have attended the Strategies Incubator Course and am an employee at a team-based company. I value your teachings. Have you ever encountered the issue of a team losing trust in its leader? If so, how do you fix the damage? What happens when your leader is grasping at “shiny objects” and not staying on a no-compromise course? What can the team do to help? What can the team do when it’s clear their leader doesn’t know what direction he/she is taking the company?
I know this is not “MY” business and I could just walk away. I really like the Strategies business model and I can see a very positive future ahead. Unfortunately, that positive future may be too far off for me. I work with a great team … but it’s our leader that has the final say, and he’s off the charts.”
It is a sad day when employees lose trust in their leader – even worse when they lose hope that their leader can deliver a better future. My advice to employees that reach out to me is always the same: I urge them to meet privately with their leader and, in a respectful manner, get their concerns and frustrations on the table for discussion. Sometimes it’s more impactful when two employees that the leader trusts deliver the message. I also strongly urge that they get the leader to call me. Unfortunately, in all my years of giving this advice, I have never received a call from a leader.
Call these “interventions”; they are difficult conversations for employees to have with their leaders. There’s fear of reprisals from the leader or that anger and hurt feelings may occur. Emotions can take over and well-intended conversations can go in the wrong direction.
Here are some simple no-compromise thoughts for leaders:
- Really see: It’s really not that difficult to lead without blinders on. People show their emotions and frustrations in many ways. It’s easy to ignore the signs. It takes leadership and compassion to engage in potentially tough conversations. Maybe it has nothing to do with you. Maybe it has everything to do with you. Find out.
- Simply ask: Leaders need performance evaluations too. All it takes is a simple, “How am I doing and what can I do better?”
- Feeling safe: Employees will never open up to you if they don’t feel safe and fear how you will respond. No-Compromise Leaders put their shields down to allow information and other points of view in.
- Really listen: That means allowing the employee to get all their concerns and frustrations out. Ask for more details. Ask for recommendations. Your job is to listen – not justify or defend.
- Gratitude: Showing sincere gratitude to employees with the courage to speak openly goes a long way in rebuilding trust.
- Change: Keep your blinders off. Work with a coach. Trust the process. Embrace change with passion and commitment – in the same manner you want your employees to.
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