I couldn’t write this post when it was scheduled in April because I didn’t have anything to say. #irony That block set me on the path toward creating my Rise & Shine! weekly email (subscribe here), and eight weeks later, the words suddenly found me. ~julie
How many times have you been more upset because someone failed to tell you about their mistake, than you (claim) you would have been about the mistake in the first place?
I’m going to guess a million.
It’s an unrealistic guess, if you apply logic, but it feels right, doesn’t it?
A million times. Every. Single. Time. All the times. The cover-up was more upsetting than the mistake. And we tell them that. And we believe it. And everyone always promises to do better. To tell us next time. To communicate.
And then what happens?
That number doesn’t get to feel like a million by magic. No matter how many times we say it. No matter how strongly we believe it. We still wind up in situations that are 10x worse because someone failed to communicate. Because they didn’t tell us when they first had an inkling there was a problem. Because they didn’t notify us when they changed their mind. Because they thought it would all work out and we’d never find out. And it was such a minor thing anyway…
What have we done to create this environment?
Yup. That’s right! I’m turning this one right back around.
Some of it is logistics, sure. Sometimes news travels fast. Sometimes it is hard to know what will become a front-page story. What about the other times? What about the times when the people around us hope that it all gets resolved before we find out?
Why do they hope we won’t find out?
What have we done to create an environment were the people around us don’t trust our reaction? Where they believe we’ll shoot the messenger, even when we promise we won’t. Why don’t they change their behavior? What’s holding them back?
And more importantly, what can we do to fix it?
What can we do to encourage the people around us to share bad news? How can we reward our communities for getting real with their problems? For telling us, to our face, when things just aren’t alright? How can we create that kind of trust. In us. Trust that we will listen and process and thank them for their honesty. Trust that we will do all the things we say we would have done every time we correct someone’s failure to communicate.
It starts with us. We need to set the example. We need to go first. We need to clearly and quickly communicate when we realize things aren’t going right. We need to model curiosity and demonstrate learning and show rational problem-solving. We need to not beat ourselves up (so they believe that we won’t beat them up, either). We need to ask for help (because we need it! and it shows that asking for help is allowed and encourage). We need to calmly weigh options and document lessons and reward solutions.
How often do we march through the problem-solving process alone? In our own heads (Guilty!). How often do we recognize an issue and overcome an obstacle without anyone noticing? Because we think that is what leaders do: We handle shit (Guilty! Again!). Are we setting the expectation that our teams must also handle their shit? Are we quietly creating a culture where problem-solving is a solo enterprise? Are we subtly displaying contempt for asking for help because we never ask ourselves?
Could all of this be solved if we would just communicate?
If we would bring the team in and show our work. Explain our concerns. Walk through the options. Ask questions! Document lessons. Model our problem-solving technique.
Could we quiet the fear, build up the trust, and create an environment where it is safe to communicate? Even about the hard stuff? Especially about the hard stuff...
I think we can! If we have the courage to communicate.
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Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
The Truth about Leadership by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner