[February 21, 2021] Develop trusted agents to provide feedback. An early leadership lesson I learned was to listen closely to a few select people. Carefully chosen, these folks can provide you with an extraordinary level of information necessary to succeed.
I always have people around me that I trust to tell me the brutal truth. Harsh as it may seem, we all tend to listen to individuals who tell us things we like to hear. These “yes men” are part of feel-good leadership and blind us to the landmines within complex organizations.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking,” – General George S. Patton
Over the first months in any leadership position, I develop trusted agents who provided feedback on steering the organization. I use my wife, my enlisted advisor, the senior operations NCO, the Chaplain, my driver (like Radar on the television series MASH), and my fellow peer commanders. They helped keep me focused on bettering the organization in a positive way.
Beware of Groupthink:
There is, of course, a danger to any information network, regardless of intent. A leader must be on the lookout for conformity in this group. A well-known four-star general once told me that any informal network could bias my decision-making when they start to minimize conflict. Thus, the importance of maintaining their trustworthiness.
Refine the Feedback Network:
I continue to refine this feedback network and tools for feedback by meeting with subordinate team leaders and a select few outside my organization but always brought that data back to my trusted agents for final vetting before making a decision. Each of these individuals was explicitly tasked by me for uncensored, unvarnished information.
Of course, I am aware how any one of these people might misuse their trusted position, so I warn them about the possibility. I also test their data against data I received from others, comparing and contrasting information to find where the feedback could be inaccurate or misleading.
Eating with the Privates:
I stay informed about my organization also through what I call eating with the Privates (those at the very bottom of the organization). I do this because they are typically too frightened to lie to me. While they see the world differently, this perspective can be beneficial. The old saying that “shit rolls downhill” applies, and I want to know what it is like at the bottom of the hill.
I could never be successful in any leadership position without these people. I am always polite, caring, and humble that they would voluntarily help me to accomplish the mission.