Friday, June 1, 2018

Leadership Litmus Test



Loss of sleep, strained relationships, loss of productivity, injuries and sick leave, increased customer complaints - these are just a few symptoms of unresolved conflict in the workplace.  "Unresolved conflict represents the largest reducible cost in many businesses, yet it remains largely unrecognized." (Dana, Daniel 1999). Measuring the Financial Cost of Organizational Conflict.

Seems this would be motivation enough for leaders to identify and resolve workplace issues.  Yet managers and employees alike seem more willing to step out than to step up to the challenge of constructive confrontation.

Almost 50% of people have considered changing jobs in order to avoid confronting an issue, and 12% actually left the job to get away from the person or problem, according to a study conducted by the University at North Carolina. 

It seems that in the scheme of everything we have to conquer on our formidable to-do lists, delivering some direct, honest feedback would be the least of our management worries.  Not so.  We have found that many leaders would rather procrastinate as long as possible before sitting down with a boss, peer, or employee to deliver just a few minutes of raw feedback - or Straight Talk, as we call it. 


Straight Talk is the practice of initiating a dialogue to voice contrasting opinions, needs, ideas, hurts, disagreements, and observations, in a constructive and direct manner.  This is sharing instead of stewing, asking rather than assuming, and solving instead of blaming. 

Many people we coach suffer from a lack of self-awareness simply because they are out of touch with how their behavior impacts others and how they are perceived in turn.  No one has dared give them the very feedback they need to hear the most.  Even better, they actually want it too! 

A survey conducted by Lore International Institute of over 500 employees from all types of organizations and industries, found that 92% listed HONESTY as the number one thing they wanted most from a manager. 


Yet working with both novice and seasoned leaders alike, we have found that the number one reason managers tend to put off employee performance appraisals is because of a fear of confrontation.  What does this "fear of confrontation" really mean?  What are we afraid might happen if we get real with others?

The most common obstacles managers cite for why they avoid approaching a troubled employee include:

  • Fear of embarrassing the employee or hurting their feelings
  • Fear of looking like a fool
  • Fear of upsetting the status quo
  • Fear of damaging a good relationship or demotivating a good employee
  • Preparation and confrontation requires too much time and energy
  • Unable to predict the employee's reaction
  • Fear of defensive reactions
  • Feels intimidated by the employee
  • Hard to measure the performance problems
The truth is, strong leaders, learn how to balance support and candor, truthfulness with empathy.  Sadly, many leaders deceive themselves and others when they publicly proclaim a commitment to accountability, integrity, and standards of excellence, but instead cheat others out of vital growth opportunities by withholding or "packaging" the truth. 

When we sugarcoat or avoid performance or behavioral issues, we are choosing to place our temporary comfort level above the wellbeing of the other person's present and future professional life.  To confront is to care. Others may choose to use or lose our feedback, but we owe it to them to give it anyway.  

General Colin Powell said it best - "Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It's inevitable-if you're honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: You'll avoid the tough decisions, you'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset."

"Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally "nicely" regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization."

The good news is that Straight Talk is not a skill you're born with, rather it is a learned ability that improves with the right techniques and diligent practice.  Spend some time thinking about crucial conversations you have put off. 

Ask yourself -what do either of you truly gain from your silence?  Would you want others withholding important feedback from you?  Are you prepared to receive Straight Talk in return?


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