When I ask leaders this question, they smile as if it’s a tricky question. It’s easier to smile and wonder than to answer the question. When I nudge them, their responses typically are:

  • That’s a good question.
  • I think so.
  • I’m not sure.
  • Does any leader really know?
  • How can I find out?

As a leader you rely far less on what you actually know and far more on what others know to help you lead your organization. When they have the truth and you don’t, you’re disabled. When others know what you don’t know, it’s your problem, not theirs. Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak writes regularly and insistently about being kept informed. Can we really be too informed?10 ways to increase the likelihood you’re being told what you need to know.

  1. Insist on the truth.  Tell your team that you always want to know the truth, including the fullest truth known, under all circumstances.
  2. State that it’s safe to speak up—that any one at any level, for any reason, and at any time can speak openly. Give them specific examples—that they can share input, provide feedback, raise questions, challenge decisions—including yours, without adverse consequences.
  3. Go on record with a personal, credible, unconditional statement that expresses your commitment to a safe, open operating style throughout the organization, on every team, on every project, in every relationship.
  4. Liberate yourself from your belief that you already know the truth.  Ask humbly, “I’ve been carrying around this idea (or opinion) and I wonder if it’s actually true. Tell me what you think.”
  5. Monitor how you and others react when unexpected information is provided.  Do not penalize people who bring you the truth even when it’s bad news.
  6. Ask for feedback, input, and opinions in every conversation—including 1:1 meetings, team meetings, and project meetings.
  7. Authorize everyone with permission to challenge the status quo, test assumptions, revisit decisions, and to push back. Discuss how you expect others to challenge your ideas and even disagree with you.  Provide examples. 
  8. Call out examples of feedback, input, challenge, disagreement and robust debate when you see it.
  9. Thank those people who bring up the truth.  Champion their candor—point out their example to others, comment on the impact, and communicate your on-going expectations from the entire team. Thank them privately and publicly and acknowledge how much you value their input.
  10. Listen to the truth without judgment. Suspend judgment of any information you receive, whether it’s positive or negative. When others believe you genuinely want the truth and you won’t react poorly to negative feedback, they’re more likely to be completely honest.  Judging, reprimanding, or displaying any regret in knowing the truth will move others to silence.

The truth is not all you need to know to be a successful leader, but you can’t be successful without it.Image on boldomatic.com