So often I see, up close, the huge disconnect between what the field thinks is going on and what corporate believes is going on. I see TV groups spending huge amounts of money on some initiative or program. They think they’re doing the right thing, but at the station level, it’s viewed at best as a distraction, or useless by others.
Who’s right? Where’s the disconnect? I’m pretty sure it’s that the group leadership isn’t getting good feedback. Additionally, station leadership isn’t giving it back to corporate, either, for all kinds of reasons—including fear!!!! Figuring out how to change that may be critical to making sure resources are appropriately allocated in the years ahead.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article about engaged listening (find it here). I think that’s a huge part of it, but I also think it’s creating a culture where appropriate dissent and disagreement is not only tolerated, it’s encouraged.
That’s not easy. It’s not easy for many reasons. Feedback is hard to hear, especially when it’s negative. I once gave a speech where a mentor, and former boss, was in the audience. Afterward, he approached me and asked, “Do you want some honest feedback?” Every bone in my body wanted to scream “NOOOOO.” Just from his tone, I knew I would really have preferred dishonest feedback from him!
In our business, there are also tons and tons of leaders who have strong personalities and who think they’re usually right. These are the kinds of personalities that do everything in their power to create “yes” men and women. I know some of these leaders. They actually hate yes men and women, but never realize all they’re doing to create them. Their strength becomes their weakness. They were strong and that’s why they got promoted, but their strength (and smarts and ego) hold them back sometimes from being the listeners they need to be.
There’s also some responsibility for this that has to be on the next level of leaders in an organization. Many of you don’t have the guts to tell your bosses what you see as the truth. I’m not talking about every nit-picking idea, but about things you think are significant. And, of course, bosses have to hear that respectfully, even when they disagree with what you’re saying. If dissenters are shot, it usually has a chilling effect on others.
I remember when I was promoted early in my career. Someone told me that instantly my jokes were going to be funnier and my ideas more brilliant. Within a week, two people on my team told me how excited they were that I was there and how bad the last boss had really been. The sucking up had begun.
But if you only listen to the people who tell you what you want to hear, you’ll think that you really are brilliant. For me, that’s probably dangerous.
Many years ago, I was privileged to have a close friendship with George Mitchell when he was the Senate Majority leader. Senator Mitchell had a group of 7-8 men and women whom he had lunch with a couple of times a year. Those people were his truth-tellers. I was a part of some of those meetings. People were direct and the feedback was honest, and he was a very engaged listener.
Who are your truth-tellers? I agree with Brad Rex. It’s hard for leaders to get honest feedback. But I think it would save you a lot of time, money, and energy if you got it.
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