Leaders have a big, big problem – their direct reports won’t tell them the truth

If you’re the leader of an organisation, you run the risk that no-one tells you what’s really going on. You have a big problem. This article explains why.

One of the biggest risks of being a leader in an organisation is that no one is going to tell you the truth.

A few leaders are wise enough to bring in outside consultants, but many of them will tell you that your baby is beautiful, because that’s the information that gets them invited back.

The problem is information filtering. Every social group does it – your family, your friends and certainly your staff. The larger a company gets, the more layers of management separate the CEO from the front-line staff and from clients.

Leaders, with their strong can-do personalities, have a second problem that compounds the first one. You tend to think that if people don’t speak up, they’re with you!

Look at your organisation. Are you geographically removed from your front-line workers? Is your office on a different floor? Maybe your schedule is so full that you rarely have an opportunity to go ‘walkabout’.

Do you count on your closest advisors to tell you what you need to know? Because, of course, there’s just too much information to deal with. So you have to filter, because that’s one thing humans are really good at. It’s a survival technique.

What about your personality? Let’s face it, if you’re a leader, the chances are quite good that you have a strong will. And that you’re bright. You may be impatient, which is often an asset in business. There’s a better than average chance that you’re a man, and an excellent chance that you’re in your fifties or sixties – especially if you’re CEO of a medium-sized business.

If you fit this age and gender description, then there’s a strong chance that you grew up with the hierarchical, military-style mindset that criticism is a personal attack, and that subordinates should show a high level of deference to their superiors. Whether you like to admit it or not, this is always floating around in the back of your head.

So, CEO, think about this: is everything really fine? Do they just let you have it? …Or do they couch the news in politically-correct, I’m-OK-You’re-OK, How-To-Win-Friends-And-Influence-People terms that waters down the meaning behind the message? …Do they not tell you at all, because you’ve demonstrated by your reaction in the past that bad news is not welcome news?

With thanks to Ted Coiné.

If you have problems with people in your company telling you what they think you want to hear, then give us a call on 01865 810586 to see if we can help.