Just Why Do Leaders Need Truth?
Human beings are hard-wired to think about something other than themselves for 15-seconds. This one science-based fact can lead to the conclusion that pitch selling doesn’t work. It also means that telling people what to do will never produce employee engagement.
Think about it. If people are unable to think about something else for only 15-seconds, sales pitches don’t work and ordering people around will never produce employee engagement.
We are motivated by one outcome: Fulfilled Expectations.
When we become skilled in accessing the needs and expectations of our stakeholders, we are more able to help them succeed. When stakeholders candidly talk about our strengths and weaknesses, we are more able to change. In a rapidly changing workplace, the ability to connect with others skyrockets. When we are able to motivate our teams in genuine ways, that investment pays off.
We designed our first leadership program for one of the world’s biggest media companies. When I ran that curriculum past our internal partners, they had strong reactions.
“If our managers ask these questions directly, someone is going to get hurt.”
I came back with, “Why on earth would you want a manager who is averse to hearing the truth?”
Prior to designing customized interviews, we invest a great deal of time learning details about each significant stakeholder relationship and business issues. We probe interpersonal relationships. We look for current and desired future states. This information helps us develop strikingly specific and brilliantly good questions. For the executives, the immersive experience of asking these questions and respectfully listening to the answers tends to be a life-altering experience.
Why is masterful inquiry such an important skillset?
Asking and listening was always preferable behavior than giving people orders. Stakeholders are far more driven when we connect with the needs and expectations. Socrates believed that we get the truth by asking the right questions.
Connectivity, this ability to fluidly find the truth of our stakeholders becomes especially important during accelerating change. Today’s leaders have to make changes more frequently and often with significant disruption. Hanging on to the old motivation chestnuts such as, “Do this or else” or “You should be happy to have a job,” destroy productivity and buy-in. Far greater success takes place if our language speaks to their expectations. In other words, finding ways to honor our expectations as well as theirs produces far better results.
We ask our leadership clients to tell us when their executives are receiving their packages from Inspired Work. There are always a few calls that begin with, “You can’t be serious. You want me to ask these questions?” Our reply is always the same. “Yes. Please note that all of them have received letters telling them what to expect, to be candid, and if there is any kind of retaliation to call us. We have yet to receive such a call.
It has been said, “the truth will set us free but first, it will piss us off.”
Consider the impact of just two questions:
“What do I do that motivates or demotivates you?”
“What can I do to become a more effective leader?”
My interpretation of humility is simply to be open. Albert Einstein once said, “I want to know the thoughts of God. The rest are details.” We often confuse humility with humiliation. The smartest leaders that I know are always humble, open to suggestions, eager to improve, asking for help, and acutely listening to others.
The most impressive leaders that I know are absolutely clear on their mission, vision, and purpose. But, they demonstrate real humility and skill in making it safe, even compelling, to tell the truth, find the truth and live in the truth.
This is the kind of leader that connects and improves employee engagement.
This is the leader that lives in transparency. Why is this so important? Everywhere that we look, we find organizations and leaders being toppled by the transparency revolution. Technology has taken our culture to a place where nothing is private, very little can be hidden, and if we attempt to do just that, the results can be spectacularly awful.
There are many organizations and individuals that have been totally caught off guard by the new reality. The payoff from full transparency will be spectacularly good. In alignment with the value of truth, transparency will force us to change for the better.
Consider the lost opportunity and the missing truth when we send out a consultant to conduct 360s or we have employees go online and participate in a “confidential” 360. As the landscape around us continues to speed up, the truth becomes of our most valuable assets.
Transparency will force us to work with nothing to hide and run our organizations with nothing to hide.
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