Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent position believes to be true.
There is inherent organizational danger when communicating things to a leader that they may not be seeing:
You could be rejected, which leads to embarrassment.
You could be dismissed, which leads to self-doubt.
You could be humiliated, which leads to isolation.
You could be discounted, which leads to demoralization.
Alternately, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:
You could be celebrated for the input.
You could be included in the decision-making process.
You could be honored for your courage.
You could be valued for your contribution.
Whether a reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader, “speaking truth to power” can be overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader must face.
Receptivity of the Leader
No matter the current stage of our leadership journey, we have all been there at some point and can relate to emotion of the young leader when faced with the risky decision to “speak truth to power.”
However, it could be argued that the senior leader has even more at stake.
Unless they create a safe environment in which others feel the freedom to share, the senior leader runs the risk of missing key information that may never find its way to them. With that in mind, much of the burden falls on the senior leader to create an atmosphere that mitigates the risk for the young leader.
How are you doing in this area?
5 TIPS FOR CREATING A CULTURE THAT HEARS
Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing the information they need in order to make informed decisions and lead well:
Slow down your cadence.
Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving too fast and I did not slow down in order to see more possibilities. The faster I went the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, sip a warm beverage, pray, do whatever you need to do in order to slow your pace.
Suspend your need to be right and work really hard to understand an alternate position. Before you jump to a conclusion or shoot down an opposing opinion, spend some time to discern the message they are bringing to you.
Always say thank you.
You would be surprised how often I observe leaders who turn and walk away from an interaction without expressing gratitude. Very rarely, if ever, is their intent to be unkind or degrading, however, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than allowing them to focus on being fully present in their current interaction, with awareness and sensitivity to the needs of the relationship. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to simply helping people to hold on to their humanity. Try the simple act of saying “thank you” more often and see how it might contribute to more open communication.
Spend time reflecting.
At the end of your day, take the time to review. Play back the interactions you had with others, resisting the temptation to become defensive. Ask yourself questions such as, I wonder what they were really trying to ask me? Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself? Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment? What unintended consequences could my actions have? Be honest with yourself as you learn and grow from the challenges and successes.
Do the inner work of developing your soul.
Psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. With that in mind, what is your next step in development? Could it be that you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?
Pick one of the 5 tips above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt, and let me know what outcomes you see. I’d love to know how these tips contribute to more open communication within your team or organization.