[September 26, 2017] There is no denying that all leaders live in a bubble to some extent where accurate and timely information struggles to get to them. A big leadership challenge is whether they are taking effective steps to overcome the disadvantages associated with it. When leaders fail, often spectacularly, it can be often traced back to their inadequate effort to avoid bias, filters, and the ever present “yes men” that make up the bubble.
One way some senior leaders solve this living-in-a-bubble problem is for them to ask lots of questions and listen closely to different stakeholders.1 While this is an effective tactic, the leader must also remain cognizant of the inherent bias in answers a leader will be given. This is why leaders should clearly communicate their philosophy that they want blunt and accurate information no matter how bad it can be.
“One of the best paradoxes of leadership is a leader’s need to be both stubborn and open-minded. A leader must insist on sticking to the vision and stay on course to the destination. But he must be open-minded during the process.” – Simon Sinek, British/American author
Junior leaders are often told by more senior folks to never bring a problem to the boss unless they also bring a solution. We’ve all heard this and while it has merit, we should also remember that solutions sometimes are not within the grasp of people for a variety of legitimate reasons; such as a lack of experience. Leader awareness is the best defense against this.
The senior leader can also be the problem, directly. Some leaders are content to do all the talking (by imparting their vision, guidance, etc.) and thereby let their methods of doing routine business stand in the way of good information flow. Leaders may think they are the expert and have all the critical information they need for good decision making but in reality, they have placed themselves in a box that doesn’t allow for flexibility or improvement.
This means that the best leaders are those that aggressively seek unbiased input and are willing to let it be known there is no penalty for anyone giving them the facts and an informed opinion (or assessment). Such leaders encourage subordinates to bring information to them that will contradict the culture or ideology of their organization.
The impact otherwise will be leaders who experience failure. Doing those things to prevent it seems only a basic leadership trait but we know that people are human and will do the unpredictable every time.
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