If anyone knows how to ask the bold questions of our most successful leaders, it's Brené Brown. Her years of research on the topic of leadership has prompted raw, honest feedback about what needs to change in the way people lead and the cultures they build.
One question in particular prompted an answer about leadership qualities that led across the board. For some entrepreneurs, the awareness it brings may sting a bit.
What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we're faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation?
The top answer:
We need braver leaders and more courageous cultures.
To view yourself as lacking in courage would not be a favorable thought. The suggestion may even be met with denial. However, when you examine the deeper meaning behind the statement, you may fall into the "room for improvement" category.
For greater clarification, they followed with: "Why courage?" And, "What's getting in the way of building more daring cultures?"
Ranking as the most concerning issue within the bravery topic was the tendency for leaders to avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback.
I frequently witness an inclination toward avoidance in entrepreneurs. A habit of sidestepping tough conversations is often cloaked in what they view as kindness. Or they are fearful of rocking the boat and risking the loss of an employee, partner, or client. A lack of time is also a popular excuse, but in the end, avoidance is responsible for stealing far more time than honesty.
What tough conversations are you avoiding?
Tiptoeing around a problem only serves to undermine the trust in your relationships. The damaging effect this has on a company's culture and one's ability to lead effectively is nearly irreparable. If your team can't trust you to give honest feedback, they will live in a world of uncertainty. Productivity and innovation will not thrive in an uncertain environment.
Don't confuse bravery and honesty with confrontation.
Many people believe that, while a courageous attempt at an honest, open discussion is in earnest, it will inevitably lead to a confrontational experience. This confusion further supports a tendency to avoid difficult conversations.
If your feedback is constructive, direct, and kind, your intention is not to be confrontational. As such, it's not probable that the other party will become confrontational. If they do, know that it comes from their own fear and insecurity and not likely from something you said or did.
If a team member's performance or attitude is impeding progress, costing money, or negatively influencing employee or customer relationships, don't delay. Bravely discuss it with them and, together, create a plan for improvement.
These three questions will help you to go into these conversations feeling prepared and in the best frame of mind.
1. How's my timing?
If you go into any conversation on the heels of an event that upset you, you may come off as angry. Anger in a situation like this is not usually productive (there are exceptions). However, I see many entrepreneurs wait too long after a problem occurs, only to lose their motivation to address it. Find your sweet spot and hold on to your resolve.
2. What's my intention?
A clear intention prevents confusion. Simply pointing out a problem will not offer either of you the most desirable outcome. A meaningful discussion includes a good look at the problem, an understanding of what the other party has to say, and a solution that both parties agree on.
3. What's the follow-up plan?
Some people have an amazing ability to course-correct immediately, and others require ongoing support and coaching. If you don't schedule a follow-up meeting right away, you may never get around to it. A leader's lack of follow-through breeds resentment, or at least unease, in both parties. Before ending your discussion lay out the expectations, how success is to be measured, and a timeline moving forward. Most important, stick with it. The inclination to demote the importance of your discussions may be tempting as time passes. Think about the people you'll be letting down--including yourself.