If you are in a leadership position, or a board member I have a question for you. How much do you really know about what is happening in your organization?
Studies show that leaders know far less than they think they do about what is really happening in their organization and that ignorance poses a danger to their leadership. It has been suggested that executives see 4% of the problems, Team Managers see 9% of the problems, Team Leaders see 74% of the problems and staff see 100%of the problems.
Anyone who consults, as I do, understands that this dynamic creates all kinds of issues that are dangerous to the organization. These include disgruntled staff, strategies that are no longer working, leaders who are creating more harm than good, and broken systems that eat up time and energy, and cost.
Why does this "iceberg of ignorance" exist? Here are some reasons.
First, senior leaders (and board members) don't ask people in the organization the kinds of questions that would provide them with real knowledge. In fact, many in leadership don't ask questions at all. Rather, they assume that because they are in leadership that they understand and know the facts. That is a very dangerous and erroneous assumption. Leaders are often the last to know the actual state of affairs because unless asked, staff will not take the risk of being the bearer of bad news.
Second, many leaders want to hear what makes them comfortable, not the real issues. Thus, they not only don't ask hard questions but they resist information that they find inconvenient. Staff quickly discern what it is that leaders want to hear and tailor their messages accordingly. It is simple self-preservation.
Peter Drucker is considered a management guru. He knew a ton about what was going on in industry and business. How did he know what he knew? Every morning for many years he would call "line operators" in various businesses and ask probing questions. He didn't call the presidents, vice presidents, or leadership team but those who actually did the work. And then he listened and asked follow up questions.
One of the most strategic things any leader can do is to invest time, real time, in talking to staff at all levels. And in those conversations, ask good questions, listen carefully, and follow the trails that appear.
Here are some basic questions that will create meaningful dialogue and provide the leader with real information.
- On a scale of one to ten, what is your happiness factor in your work?
- What would make it higher?
- Do you have the necessary tools to do your work well?
- Are you being used to your fullest potential?
- What issues do you see from your vantage point that keep our organization from being as successful as it could be?
- Are there any people you work with who you think is in the wrong position?
- If you could change three things about our culture what would they be and why?
- If you were the president, what would you do differently in our organization?
- How can I and our management support you better?