[July 28, 2018] Do you want to be a leader? If you answer this question like you should, the answer will be “yes” because no other answer is acceptable. To be a leader you must learn a number of important skills. One of them is to never punish loyal followers for being honest.
“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.” – Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church
Whenever I speak to new leaders, I often mention my first meeting with my company commander when I was a new U.S. Army Second Lieutenant. My commander told me that it was important to never be afraid to give honest feedback. Later that week, after looking into the substandard condition of vehicles in our motor pool, I told him about it. His disposition towards me changed after that. He noted that I was not a good team player and that I needed more experience around vehicles.
I understood at that moment that honest feedback was just lip service and would be more careful in the future. Another lieutenant came to me and said essentially the same thing. I learned that being a sycophant was more important and that those who spoke their minds would be punished.
In the past, I’ve written about the company commander and how I learned how NOT to be a leader from him. I promised myself that I would never repeat his mistakes and that has been true ever since. The commander’s unit was built on a culture of “yes men.” Those who could have added a realistic view of the condition of the unit were not welcome; I was not welcome.
A few months later, the commander was relieved of this position and a new company commander was installed. This new commander told us the same thing, he wanted honesty in reporting problems. He didn’t want it screamed to the sky but wanted all of us to meet with him and the unit’s First Sergeant and go over any problems. He was true to his word and the unit was able, after several weeks, to fix our maintenance problems.
The commander who was fired from his job could have avoided it if he had just asked for and accepted honest input. Good leaders know that listening is one of the most powerful skills a leader can master. It also takes a dose of humility to go along with it.