No matter how much you try to create an open culture, encourage debate, and empower your employees, those lower down the office hierarchy (assuming you have one) are going to have a natural tendency to sugarcoat reality for those toward the top.
It's human nature not to want to be the bearer of bad news, and it takes real nerve to inform your boss of his or her shortcomings. But if you could strip away all the optimistic spin, what would your employees really tell you about your leadership?
That's a question Vineet Nayar, CEO of Indian IT company HCL Technologies, actually investigated, reporting the results recently on the HBR Blog Network. To get to the unvarnished—and valuable—truth about employees' pet peeves, Nayar took to social media, offering his connections an opportunity to openly air their grievances with their managers.
He asked: What is the one thing you'd like your boss to stop doing?
Ironically, the top response of employees mirrored the original complaint from bosses that prompted the experiment. It turns out just about no one on any rung of the career ladder feels they get enough plain talking at work. Here's the top response, according to Nayar:
Don't obfuscate; tell it like it is. That's typical of Gen Y, which wants its leaders to call a spade a spade. "Tell it like it is, stop worrying about hurting people's feelings," said one response. The next was even more direct: "Stop being outwardly nice and be vocal about dissatisfaction with my efforts." A third went a step further: "Let people know where they really stand. They know how to win if we tell them the score."
No rose-tinted spectacles for today's employee; they have the pluck to look at their failures and successes and have little patience for circuitous comments.
The second and perhaps even more difficult implication of Nayar's findings is the need not just to provide feedback to your team members but also to solicit it from them. It's likely you're doing something that drives your employees nuts and are completely oblivious to what that is, his experiment suggests.
"How about starting your Monday-morning team meeting with a simple question: What's the one thing you want me to stop doing as your boss? Why, that could even turn out to be your resolution for 2013," suggests Nayar.
Do you have the courage to actually ask your team this question? Any guesses what they'd respond?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel