Do You Need to Leave the Island?
Dr. Paul Metler | 3/16/2015 7:41:24 PM
Effective leadership requires accurate information. That’s obvious. It seems that most conversations about information have shifted toward complaints about quantity. It’s understandable. Digital engagement often leads to an overwhelming torrent of attention grabbing messages. However, when you sift through your proverbial inbox, you need to sharpen your focus. Are you receiving the right information? The quality of information you receive is critical for your success.
When it comes to accurate information, the climb up the corporate ladder can feel like a journey toward isolation. Your destination is an island where impeccable communication is limited. Some have referred to this malady as CEO disease. An acute case of CEO disease is easily recognized: the higher the level of leadership, the less truthful information you receive. Is there a cure? Yes, the road to recovery requires three courageous steps.
First, step back and broaden your focus. It may seem counterintuitive at first. But, you need to discover how information flows in general before you can improve your own situation. Observe the flow of information in all directions: up, down, peer-to-peer, internal and external. You will have the opportunity to learn which pathways and methods are most efficient before honing in on your particular need. You may discover islands that you did not know existed. No doubt, this will be a golden opportunity to gain insight about your company and learn from others.
Second, send a message that you want to hear the truth. After discovering some patterns of communication in your organization, it’s time to send a different kind of message. There’s a reason that truth is scarce at the top of many organizations. Many C-level leaders, whether knowingly or unknowingly, create barriers. One of the most insidious barriers is defensiveness. When performance is the external and internal measure of success, it’s natural to deem any information that exposes challenges or deficiencies a threat. The result is an inherent defensive posture that hinders communication. Sadly, defensiveness blocks the information that is required for optimal performance and continued learning. How do you send a message that you crave the truth? You open the door, come off the island and walk toward the truth tellers in your organization. Initiate conversations at a deeper level. If impeccable communication has not been the norm, you will need to prove your seriousness over time. But, you must begin with a tangible effort.
Third, learn to listen better. It’s sounds so simplistic. Beware. It’s really easy to convince yourself that you are an exceptional listener. Skillful listening is very difficult. Becoming a better listener does not happen without ruthless discipline and desire. Listening to messages that confirm assumptions and beliefs is easy. Listening carefully and attentively to messages that rub against the grain is tough. Countervailing messages trigger defensiveness. Overcoming defensiveness begins with a sincere commitment. Follow up your commitment with practice. As you practice listening, you send an invitation to the truth-tellers in your organization. Over time the quality and quantity of critical information will surface with greater frequency. Listening becomes the welcome mat for accurate information.
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