The Idea: We are all wired to embrace certainty; it’s biological and it protects us. We see it in religious communities, political parties, family gatherings and in most organizations. The feeling of uncertainty is uncomfortable, so we look for answers that eliminate ambiguity or neutralize people who disagree with our ideas. The more success one achieves, the more one demands predictability and dismisses critics. Are you courageous, offering gratitude to contrarians who critique your views?
Of all the problems in organizations, self-deception might be the most destructive. It distorts our view of reality, our view of self, and our effectiveness. It’s a sign of unchecked and unhealthy leadership and is always a precursor to a fall.
In response, the highest performing teams have learned to differentiate between disobedience and productive dissent. Listening to contrasting views is unsettling and stirs up personal insecurities. It’s difficult to receive feedback when it’s often expressed with a hint of frustration. But contrarian opinions shine a light on “gaps” in our thinking and offers new ideas to strengthen our arguments. Organizations that embrace diverse cultures drive increased sales performance and defend against self-deception. When more people can examine an idea, they solidify facts and disrupt entrenched ways of thinking.
Do You Confront the Truth?
A study sponsored by Boston University and Harvard found that 70 percent of people are either choosing not to discuss problems or burying them all together. The healthiest leaders are comfortable confronting the truth. Harvard Leadership professor Bill George reminds us that “Leadership is not about traits; it is about your life story and understanding others’ stories.” In fact, studies have shown that diverse thinking teams are more adept at confronting personal biases, and when everyone’s story is understood, people are able to speak with confidence.
The same study found that people who don’t confront truth ultimately pay the price for their lack of honesty. Putting on emotionally protective armor – and not embracing one’s leadership weaknesses – stunts growth in all areas of life. The people I admire most discuss their weaknesses and are not afraid to put themselves under the spotlight. We must dare to be transparent, truthful, and vulnerable.
Are You the Problem?
Seventy percent of the reasons someone leaves a company is because of its leader. The likely culprit is that associates don’t feel valued, respected, or heard by their management. The highest performing cultures model healthy dissent, and reward difficult questions so that fear of retribution doesn’t set in.
If we forget to do the little things, you will always regret it. According to a Harvard Business Review article called “The Price of Incivility,” managers at Fortune 1000 firms spend the equivalent of seven weeks a year dealing with the aftermath of incivility. The most frequently cited forms of incivility include judgmental viewpoints, indifference to employees’ opinions, and leadership deception. These things led to intentionally decreased work effort and a dramatic decrease in organizational commitment. Similarly, participants in experiments who were treated rudely were 30 percent less creative than others, while also producing 25 percent fewer ideas. It is bad for business, destroys retention, and kills productivity.
Emotionally unhealthy leaders and unsafe cultures squelch the creation process and hinder team bonding. Simply put, incivility, even in small doses, destroys a company because it destroys people. We all need to feel liberated from fear of judgment or being punished for sharing critical feedback. It starts with openness from the top and continues with the little moments of leadership vulnerability.
Have you been encouraging honest critique, and do you embrace dissenting voices?