When it comes to achieving organizational excellence, it’s imperative that employees challenge their leaders and just as important for leaders to listen to the professional judgment of their subordinates.
Referring to followership, Warren Bennis explains, “The most important characteristic may be a willingness to tell the truth. In a world of growing complexity, leaders are increasingly dependent on their subordinates for good information, whether the leaders want to hear it or not. Followers who tell the truth, and leaders who listen to it, are an unbeatable combination.”
Bennis continues by telling this story, “Movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn seems to have had a gut-level awareness of the importance of what I call “effective backtalk” from subordinates. After a string of box-office flops, Mr. Goldwyn called his staff together and told them: ‘I want you to tell me exactly what’s wrong with me and MGM, even if it means losing your job.’”
To this point, it’s not nearly enough to make an argument in a ceremonial or a “cover your backside” manner. If you’re going to speak the truth and put yourself on the line for the good of your organization, then make your case in a manner that is compelling and convincing.
At a Seton Hall University Learning Leaders Symposium, I offered ten keys to speaking truth to power effectively:
1. Trust yourself
2. Consider it your responsibility to share your professional judgment
3. Know your audience
4. Be well prepared, anticipating all questions
5. Make your point succinctly
6. Do so in the broader interest, not self interest
7. Persuade – don’t take ceremonial positions
8. Be patient – let the information sink in
9. Understand that bad news is better coming from you than from the outside
10. Trust your leadership
Now will your leadership always agree with you? Of course not, but by following these steps and making a thoughtful and earnest case, you give yourself the best chance of being heard. As a leader, consider both the message and the courage it took for your employee to deliver it.
Sound familiar? Share your story!