Congratulations, you’ve been promoted, again! As you exhale and begin to look forward at your new role and transition, be aware of the unanticipated pitfall it may bring – leadership isolation.
Because of your increased responsibility, visibility, decision-making and influence, employees and peers may change how they interact with you and may become less generous with information and even worse, the truth
As leaders, we need to watch out for this behavior and make sure to maintain and nurture connectedness as we rise within the organization.
Here are seven behaviors to ensure your “connectedness” to the pulse of the business:
Seek and acknowledge the truth
Humans inherently want to please others. In business, that tendency may manifest as people withholding bad news, sugar-coating the truth or a lack of candor altogether. As leaders become more senior, this happens gradually and often without notice – people begin to withhold information, dread delivering bad news and/or tell you what you want to hear. Information, and its color, may get lost in the organizational hierarchy or get sanitized along its journey from origin to you.
Obviously, this is a huge risk to leaders and their effectiveness. Success for both the leader and the organization depends on understanding and decision making based on an accurate business picture including both the good and the bad.
Leaders must foster behaviors to ensure they remain accurately informed. This results from culture, approachability, probing questions and creating a safe environment for accurate information exchange. When bad news is communicated, ensure that you appreciate its receipt, ask clarifying questions as needed and thank its messenger. It is still your obligation to validate the information but be open to information that is not consistent with your narrative and encourage people to be comfortable sharing it with you.
Seek out alternate perspectives within and outside the organization
Reach beyond your most trusted lieutenants and rely on a broad network across the organization. Interact with people at many levels and across many functions versus solely with your direct reports. Talk to people. Ask questions – even hard ones. Ask for opinions. All of these actions empower people to provide you information because you asked for it rather than because they initiated it; it eliminates some of the elements of politics that prevent information from reaching you.
Ensure you have access to diverse perspectives and have built a diverse team in terms of perspective and opinion. Importantly, also seek and value opinions from outside the organization. Those outside the organization offer a different perspective and are particularly likely to communicate a valued level of candor. Again, you need not agree with all varying perspectives, but hearing them can only help you refine and/or validate your own thinking and understanding
Ask questions and listen: Facilitate discussion and debate
Ask questions to discern information gaps and vet the truth. Even if you already know the answer, ask the question…of multiple people or framed in different ways. And then listen…really listen. Listen to what is said and unsaid. Read between the lines – the body language, who speaks up and who doesn’t, etc.
Play “devil’s advocate” as a means of facilitating discussion and debate. Ask the hard questions. Create a safe environment where employees can and want to contribute information, interpretation and even opinion.
Sniff out and avoid “Yes Men”
We’ve all met them at work – “Yes Men” – who agree with those in positions of political power.
While at heart, they may be well-intended respecting their leaders, working to act quickly without further discussion or debate, their lack of an opinion and candor undermines the effectiveness of the leader and the team.
“Yes Men” are a key contributor to leadership isolation. They repeatedly affirm the leader’s own thinking and fail to offer information or perspective, ultimately avoiding any of their own accountability. Recognize the “Yes Men” (or women) around you and either address their behavior, align them only with their capabilities and/or avoid having them around.
Encourage employees to THINK and DO vs. just DO
In fast-moving cultures where speed is a rewarded competitive advantage, employees can get comfortable taking direction and taking action at the expense of being thoughtful.
Leaders must constantly encourage employees to both THINK and DO. These employees are in positions of leadership and responsibility because of their own accomplishments. Their own experiences offer perspective valuable to the organization’s thinking and actions.
Avoid providing too much direction ensuring they have both the freedom and accountability for their thinking and recommendations.
Do the right thing
There has been a lot of discussion about ethics in leadership recently – largely because many leaders have failed to demonstrate them.
Do the right thing. Earn and give respect. (period)
Show up as the leader you want to be…every day. Be proud of your words and actions. Be someone others can be proud to know. That means creating an environment where diverse perspectives are appreciated and acknowledging information provided, even when it is bad news.
It means avoiding filtering information and only acknowledging that which agrees with your own point of view.
And it means doing the right thing even when it is unpopular.
Explain the WHY; Bring the team with you
Inevitably at times, your leadership decisions may not be popular. Unpopular decisions, when not handled appropriately, can further slow access to future accurate information and insight as employees seek to avoid uncertainty or anticipated consequences associated with bad news.
However, if you invest in helping people understand the WHY and how it will make the company better, with understanding may come a level of respect. People may not like the initiative, but they may support or at least be okay with it if they understand the rationale.
So take the time to communicate and drive alignment. You may not achieve full support from some stakeholders, but a neutral view is better than a negative one.
It is a hard and challenging path to climb the executive ranks. Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishment.
As you prepare for your transition and settle into your role, be deliberate to implement behaviors that will ensure your ongoing “connectedness” within the organization and keep you informed.
These behaviors will ensure your "connectedness" and enable you to continually refine your understanding of the business and its current and future landscape. Ultimately, by synthesizing input from across multiple disparate sources you will be able to anticipate and plan for what may be around the corner.
Leadership isolation occurs for many reasons – some deliberate and some accidental – but it is a real threat to senior executive leaders. Without a consistent focus on behaviors to avoid it, leaders run the risk of being inadequately or mis-informed and making poor decisions because of it.
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Lisa Andrade is founder and CEO of M33, an executive coaching and leadership development company proven in both the “executive” and “coaching” in executive coaching. M33 leverages the art of leadership and advanced leadership science to create an executive blueprint tailored to you and your organization. For an initial consultation with Lisa, contact M33 at ClientServices@M33LLC.com.