Take any corporate scandal or the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and you’ll find lower-ranking voices that tried to be heard within these organizations to prevent or minimize the consequences of the excesses or the accidents.
Some leaders are too isolated from reality and establish an “all’s-good” guise whereby anything other than affirmative becomes an undesirable—unwelcome even—answer to a performance-related question. Such leaders foster a “good-news culture,” where any truth-teller or devil’s advocate is quickly dismissed. Queries such as the cursory “Is everything okay?” elicit information-free, non-answers like “yes” and “great!”
When leaders are disconnected from reality, they become incontestably right. Employees know the rule of the game is to say what’s safe to say. To not tell the truth. To tell the leader just what she wants to hear. Employees would instead go with the flow rather than speak truth to power.
Consequently, business pressures often lead to shortcuts that go overlooked. Risk is normalized. Leaders who cannot tap into the truth get blindsided when the problems blow up because they didn’t nip the problems in the bud. Leaders have only themselves to blame when things go wrong.
Idea for Impact: Insightful leadership isn’t about the privilege of position but the privilege of information flowing upwards. Wise leaders dare to seek information they don’t want to hear. They know how to ask the right questions, look for revealing details, and set up a culture of openness that makes it easy for employees to tell the truth.