Thursday, January 3, 2013

"First, Drive out the Fear"- A Tipsheet for Leaders


Most employees are completely rational.  If they are afraid to bring forward bad news, it's probably because they have seen what has happened to others.  Sometimes it's not as extreme as dismissal but we've all seen instances where people who have spoken up have been marginalized and "lost their voice" in the organization as a result of bringing forward bad news.  Sometimes the fear isn't first hand knowledge, but "stories" that get told in organizations about what has happened to others.  Many of us have also seen the consequences of fear. Numbers and schedules are misrepresented, mistakes are repeated, the pace of improvement stalls, and bad products are forwarded to customers.  Back in April, I listed some tips on how to manage divergent conversations.  I believe these tips apply equally to building a trusting environment.  That blog is partially reproduced here.

 1. Designate a "devil's advocate".    A very senior person recently told me that in his board meetings he designates a devil's advocate to present a challenge to an emerging convergence of opinion.
2. Know the style preferences and cultural nuances of your team members. Rather than open dialogue, designate someone to lead the conversation who might otherwise defer to an assertive, first mover.
3. "Listen for silence". This is especially important in teleconferences. If you haven't heard someone for some time on a conversation, invite their voice in.
4. Know your people well enough to detect non-verbal signs of discomfort. "Tom, I can tell you aren't comfortable with the way this conversation is headed. Can you share with us what you are thinking?"
5. Master the engagement skills of Inquiry, Advocacy, Mental Models and the Ladder of Inference.  A short reference is at this link.
6.  Be choiceful about when you express your point of view as a leader. If you truly are seeking divergence on an issue, guide the conversation but also let it flow. If you have a strong point of view, acknowledge it up front and invite challenge. How you handle the challenge is will determine to the degree to which people are later willing to do so. If you hammer dissenting views into submission, don't expect challenges to your thinking in the future. If you do have a strong point of view, withhold it and then later hammer disagreement into submission, don't expect much conversation in the future until you have spoken.
7. Watch for weak signals that challenge your own mental models. This can be especially important in mature teams where the leader's attitudes and views are well known and shared. This makes it even harder to surface a dissenting view.


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