Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Wouldn’t It Be Great If Leaders Said What Was Really on Their Minds?
Have you ever been in one of those hallway conversations before the start of a meeting where the unofficial, informal discussion was incredibly hearty, gritty, and real? Leaders waiting outside the room, taking a no-holds-barred approach to people sharing their opinions and truths about the topic on deck. Debate was hearty and there was true comfort in testing ideas, thinking, and positions. No posturing, no politics, no performances. They’re informally trying to gauge some level of initial alignment.
Then, the actual meeting begins. There’s an unspoken desire for harmony and a striving for cohesion that weighs heavy. “Hearty" shifts a bit toward “hesitant”. The realness that took place outside the room turns into a need for people to continually read the room. Along with people’s ideas being challenged, their competence and careers are being challenged as well. It seems like there’s a lot of stuff looming over the table that doesn’t land, and stuff residing under the table that’s not getting surfaced.
The skill of constructively surfacing and opening up these undiscussables represents a signature strength of high-performing teams. What do people REALLY think? What’s REALLY going on right here, right now? What are the most important conversations we’re avoiding because we either feel vulnerable or uncertain? How can we take different positions on an issue or be at odds with each other without worrying about hurt feelings, broken relationships, and damaged reputations?
All of these concerns are valid…and smart leaders know how to call them out so they don’t get in the way of making smart decisions that honor the team and its purpose. They know the difference between curiosity and interrogation. “Seeking to understand” is welcomed. “Stumping the expert” is discouraged. They know when to push; when to bring people in; and when to appreciate that a few moments of silence for people to think will often lift a conversation to a new level.
Steve is the Founder + Chief Executive Officer at pro-voke.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.