Seems obvious, so why do I bother with this?
Well, I am spurred on by my own painful learning, especially when trying to manage in a cross-cultural workplace. I found myself dismissing the views of others and experiencing some very hard lessons as a result. I have also worked with CEO’s that suffer from the same self-delusion and seen the unfortunate, and avoidable, consequences.
The Nature of Truth
Truth (def: consistent with fact or reality, not false or erroneous) is personal. What is true for one is not true for another. For example, man had been staring at the horizon since appearing on earth and believed, up until the time of Aristotle that the earth was flat. The theory of a spherical earth was first postulated by Pythagoras in the 6th Century BC, but was considered “untrue” by most. Same earth, same horizon; very different truths.
Virtually every discovery in physics has run the same course. Those who first propose a new theory have either literally or figuratively been burned at the stake. An individual’s reality is what he or she agrees to be true. Thus, new theories, by nature, are initially considered to be untrue. And, human beings generally are threatened by different realities. Just look at the current political debate in this country and our inability to compromise as “Exhibit A”.
Why is this important?
How does this apply to leadership? As leaders, we don’t have a monopoly on truth in our organizations. And, understanding what is true for the staff at all levels of the organization is important to knowing what is real and to strategizing upon a solution that will work. Without this knowledge, you are running half blind.
In our strategic planning process, we complete both an internal and an external assessment or what is commonly referred to as a SWOT analysis. Interestingly, when staff and not just the management team are included, many more ideas, and very different ideas, come up. That is, their reality, closer to the work and closer to the customer, is different.
Even more to the point, when we have used a diagnostic tool (there are several we choose from) that includes a staff survey for the internal assessment, the staff perception often differs markedly from that of the management team and virtually ALWAYS differs dramatically from that of the CEO.
Why is this? Simply, we see what we choose to see and close our mind to what we don’t wish to look at. In short, we create our own realities. This becomes a significant risk factor for leaders and therefore organizations. It is why CEO’s have management teams and organizations have a board of directors. In my view, it is also why the American cultural characteristic of making heroes of the all-knowing, authoritarian CEO is a risk factor for American business. As Deming once said, if America wants to destroy its enemies, it just needs to export its management system.
What to do about this?
So, how do I avoid these pitfalls and benefit from Dann Principle #1. Here are some tips:
Understand that a well-supported, sub-optimal decision will outperform an optimal solution, poorly executed. If you want execution, i.e. following direction, then ensure that the followers have been listened to and understood. No one really agrees with someone else until their own point of view has first been understood.
- Become a better listener. Discipline yourself to practice listening to five words for every one word you speak. Gathering all the truths and viewpoints is vital for effective problem identification and solution.
- Do not be dismissive of data or opinion you consider untrue. If it is true for the other person, then it is very likely true for others and needs to be considered. It is possible you are still a “flat earther” when the real truth is that the earth is a sphere. Dismissing the reality or truth of others destroys your relationship with them. They are “unreal” to you and you are “unreal” to them. (My one caveat on this one is to not listen to those who speak in generalities, e.g. “everyone says…”. Those who do often have a destructive intent.)
- If you want change, then the need for the change must be “true” for those whose cooperation you need in order to execute. Understand their truth and sell the big why based on the foundation of what is true for them.
- Being respectful of others is fundamental to establishing and maintaining relationships.
- Fundamentally, if you want followers, understand that the decision to follow is voluntary. It is a choice. You need to practice #1-5 to create and keep followers.
Let’s hear from you
I’m interested to hear your point of view. What have you learned in your quest to understand and work with staff and leadership in your organization? Share your ideas by dropping us an e-mail. Not only will I enjoy the opportunity to get in a conversation with you, but your thoughts may well be included in future issues of Growthlines and/or on our new blog. I hope to hear from you!
If you are interested in learning about Dann’s Principles 2 – 9, or the list as a whole, click on any of links below: