How can you know that, as a leader, you are hearing the full story from your people? After all, the way you lead influences what information your team shares with you. As a leader, you must prepare yourself, support others, and create systems for an open exchange of information. You need to create your own Business Cycle of Leadership.
Understanding what is happening inside your organization and within the markets and communities you serve is vital to making effective decisions. Often, however, the more power and authority you gain in your organization, the less likely you are to hear candid feedback. It is important to remind ourselves that the whole picture will include the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is easy (and valuable) to be on the receiving end of positive results, promising news, and glowing feedback. It is harder (and, likely, even more valuable) to learn about disappointing results, warning signs, and negative feedback -- things that can be difficult to hear and challenging for your colleagues to provide.
Insight Experience teaches a valuable leadership model called the Business Cycle of Leadership. It reminds leaders that what they say, how they spend their time, and what they prioritize affects how employees implement decisions and, ultimately, creates the culture that permeates the organization.
This model serves as a powerful reminder that your words, behaviors, and what you attend to have an impact on the results you see and the information you receive. If you want more than lagging business results to guide your thinking, then you need to seek information and invite and accept new perspectives — and purposely appreciate this flow of information in all its forms. Remember that, as a leader, the hard work of overcoming inherent power dynamics is on you. You must overcome the structures that inhibit the free flow of information. Your work includes preparing yourself, supporting others, and creating systems for an open exchange of information.
As a leader, you carry power, which comes with benefits and drawbacks. How might you actively counter deference to your personal or positional power? When people defer to your authority, edit content to please you, or limit transparency to avoid conflict, you suffer from an incomplete picture. To benefit from varied perspectives and accurate information, you need to cultivate curiosity, humility, and gratitude. The following are some practices to support you:
- Recognize the limits to what you can see, know, or experience. Make a point to wonder what others see. Set a goal to be surprised in every meeting. Ask questions to which you do not know the answers.
- Possess genuine gratitude for whatever information comes your way. Even when you experience disappointment or a disagreement with someone, remember that their perspective holds value and is worthy of your attention. Know that your understanding can be expanded. And practice saying "thank you” as your first response, even if it feels disingenuous at first. The words convey a sense of gratitude to the people in the conversation and the people witnessing the exchange, and they act as a reminder to you to carry gratitude forward.
- Set aside a reflection period once a week to consider the conversations and meetings that occurred. Identify moments where you encouraged open sharing and where you, with your words and actions, discouraged it. Which do you celebrate? Which do you regret?
The Business Cycle of Leadership model shows that what you say, do, and emphasize has an impact on others. You can consciously generate an atmosphere that encourages the widespread exploration of varied perspectives. How you act creates a culture that informs what others tell you, so remember to:
- Bring an awareness to your interactions of your relative power position, remembering such psychosocial factors as position, personality, identity, and experience. Take your turn and speak after people with less power in an effort to support authentic and open communication.
- Phrase questions in ways that invite varied opinions and even dissent. Rather than checking for agreement, overtly invite disagreement. Here are some examples:
- Which concerns or considerations have not been named?
- What are good reasons not to proceed with this decision?
- What are you noticing at the edges? What has surprised you lately?
- Anything we are forgetting?
- Find small decisions in which you intentionally defer to others on your team. This gives them experience and confidence and builds their trust in your commitment to honoring others’ opinions.
- Design the setting and the dynamics of the experience in such ways that minimize barriers to communication.
- Consider where to meet. Choose to be in their space or a neutral space, rather than your
- Design the interaction. Be on the same side of the table or desk, speak on the phone rather than video, walk or drive together to speak without direct eye contact — whatever is needed to best accommodate that singular interaction.
- Remember that everything Consider how you can diminish symbols of power differences in your clothing, your background, your office, etc.
- Be patient. People will likely test you by sharing less significant information and less risky perspectives. Welcome it all on the path to building trust.
Create Systems for Information Flow
By establishing thoughtful practices and systems on your teams, you can ensure that the honest exchange of both information and perspectives becomes widespread — and the norm — for your team. If you intentionally make it a recurring practice, one that is built into operating systems, then each person is freed from the responsibility of personally attending to it. Here's how:
- Begin projects with a review of previous lessons learned as well as current proposals for how to work together effectively. Select practices and agreements the team can use to support an open exchange of information.
- Include information-sharing as part of standing agendas or regular reports. Vary the questions you ask in an attempt to keep things fresh, but remain consistent with the practice. Here are some sample questions for team members:
- What is an example of a recent successful outcome you experienced? What contributed to that success?
- What is a current concern you have? What do you think generates this concern?
- What is something you want us all to know about a particular project/customer/results?
- What is a problem you have recently solved? How did you address it?
- Where do you believe we need to pay more attention?
- Regularly share success stories. Make visible your information sources, thinking processes, and problem-solving. Who brought forward particular perspectives? What were the diverse viewpoints? How did the team process information and consider options? Tell the stories that highlight and celebrate the behavior you want to encourage.
- Complete a project or program with a debrief as part of your standard project plan. Solicit input on what worked well, where there may be questions, and where changes would improve future work.
No leader can succeed alone. Engaging colleagues in open information-sharing creates an atmosphere of mutual trust and shared problem-solving. As a leader, you need to intentionally overcome habitual power dynamics. If you can invite people to share ideas, name concerns, and risk speaking newly formed perspectives, you can achieve better decisions, consistent execution, and real innovation. You can expand your understanding and engage your employees when you prove that they can trust you with the truth.
Leslie Becknell Marx
Leslie Becknell Marx focuses on authentic communication, creative engagement, and values-based decision-making. At Insight Experience, she works with clients to develop capabilities focused on Organizational Leadership. She brings her experience in business and understanding of personal development to effectively facilitate business simulations and draw out deep learning that connects leadership to real-world results. Leslie's educational background includes a Master of International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a Master of Divinity from Andover Newton Theological School.