|April 30, 2012
from the desk of Chuck Violand...
Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—
With today’s Note I celebrate the 9th anniversary of my Monday Morning Notes series. (It was actually on April 9th, but I didn’t want to break the flow of my series on Affluenza). Once again I’d like to thank you for allowing me into your office each Monday to express my thoughts on leadership, executive development, and sometimes just life in general. I certainly hope you’ve found something of value in them, and maybe something that you’ve been able to pass along to someone else.
As I do each year on this anniversary, I run a past article that I feel continues to have significance today. In this case I’m running an article that originally appeared on August 23rd, 2004, about authorizing your employees to help you be a better boss.
As I look forward to the next year of Notes, I want to again extend my invitation to you to stay in touch with me, make suggestions, and give me your feedback on the articles. When I hear from you it lets me know if I’m addressing topics that are on target with the issues you’re facing every day as you lead your company forward.
FACING THE BOSS
by Chuck Violand...
Theodore Roosevelt once described Americans who were loathe to question their government or to criticize their president as “unpatriotic, servile, and morally treasonable.” A strong indictment for people who just want to sit back and enjoy the fruits of liberty. But I think Teddy was right, as usual. And I believe the same thing can be said for business.
In an article from the January 2004 issue of Harvard Business Review, author and psychoanalyst Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries states, “To be effective, organizations need people with a healthy disrespect for the boss—people…who can engage in active give-and-take.” Therein lies the rub.
In my experience working with small businesses, I’ve found that most entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t welcome “active give-and-take” with their employees. And they certainly don’t entertain “disrespect.” In fact, most chains of command in small businesses have a closer resemblance to obedience charts than they do to organizational charts.
All too often when an employee, even a senior manager, approaches the boss with a suggestion or an opposing point of view, the boss digs in his heals, straightens up his back while he shuts down his mind, and says, “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
But, are we really listening? Are we really open to new ideas or opposing viewpoints from the people who work for us? Or is saying, “My door is always open” just boss-speak for “Fuggedaboudit!” When this is the case, people learn to stop bringing suggestions to you. They figure they’ll stay employed longer if they just keep their mouths shut and do what the boss says. This is tragic because it isolates the boss from the things he needs to see and hear about his business.
Here are some ideas on how to foster an environment where your people feel free to openly express their opinions with you.
Start by realizing that you probably have no clue how you come across to your people. You think you’re Mr. Open Minded with your people while they may think you never listen to them. You think you’re being soft and compassionate while your people may view you as hard-edged and disinterested in their ideas.
Next, ask someone other than an employee how you come across to your people. Most employees will tell you what you want to hear. Former employees will tell you what you should have been hearing. Trusted advisors (spouses, consultants, etc.) will tell you what you need to hear. Seek the opinion of someone who is not on your payroll.
And finally…buckle up. There’s a good chance that what you’re about to hear about yourself will send you on a wild emotional ride. That’s all right. You’ll get over it. And you’ll be a better business leader when you do.
Obviously, not every employee is built to walk into your office and tell you exactly what they think about you. Some are simply too passive. But, good business leaders learn to welcome (or at least tolerate) the opinions of employees who will.
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