During my years as a consultant, I have often had people say to me, “I wish my leader knew …” to which I would encourage the individual to speak up and raise an issue of real concern so things might improve. When I did this, I often got the following responses:
“It won’t make a difference.”
“I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“It will just make them mad.”
Whatever the excuse for not speaking up, I noticed that most people were afraid of the consequences. Perhaps they thought negative things would occur because of the team atmosphere. However, I found that it didn’t matter whether those consequences were perceived or real; they were real to them. One thing I knew for sure, there was a whole lot of fake talk going on — conversations that didn’t address what mattered most and which negatively affected results.
Consequently, I thought it might be worthwhile mentioning some of what I heard in an attempt to broaden the perspective of leaders who deal with complex business challenges and who are tasked with solving problems. Listed below are a few of the challenges people mentioned that they had experienced with their leaders:
- “I can’t read their mind.” Sometimes we just assume that someone has understood us just because we thought we were clear. Because we understand something, doesn’t necessarily mean we have been clear in the way we have explained it. Asking questions to clarify our clarity and their understanding will insure execution of what we expect. Ask questions to verify expectations.
- “I wish they’d stop making promises that I can’t keep.” Some leaders know so little about what some of their people do that they don’t fully understand how long and what kind of detail are required to meet certain deadlines and objectives. Checking with those who will actually do the work will help set realistic objectives and expectations. Make a commitment only after checking with the people who will do the work.
- “I wish my leader would stop making commitments that the company can’t keep.” I heard this complaint most frequently in the aerospace industry where a company was under contract to build a product for a client. It was not uncommon once a contract had been signed for a client to make a number of additional requests to the existing contract. This phenomenon is referred to as “scope creep.”
The client wanted to add a number of “bells and whistles” but still wanted the project to come in under budget, ahead of schedule, with quality construction, and totally safe at the price that was originally agreed upon. Such behavior put massive amounts of pressure and stress on individuals to meet the additional expectations in addition to the agreed-upon objectives. Checking parameters, available resources, cost factors and time commitments become the basis for effective negotiation. Don’t promise what can’t be delivered just because you think it can.
- “I wish my leader understood how changing priorities impacts everything I do.” This might occur because of the failure on the part of the leader to understand the particulars of what someone is doing. If there isn’t a conversation about off-loading one task for another and what needs to take precedence over time, then people become frustrated. In this situation, the frustrated party also needed to seek clarifications about specifics. For some reason, they were afraid to do so. Think through, identify priorities, and clearly establish a plan for the individual.
- “I wish they knew that their priority is not at the top of my list.” Sometimes an individual may work for a number of different leaders on various projects. It is often common for all of the leaders to know what the person is working on, but the leaders never talk among themselves and decide the priority of the projects to be completed. This situation leaves the individual with the task of deciding task priority and then having to defend themselves if they violated someone’s expectations. Get clear on project priorities.
- “I wish my leader would allot enough time to get things right the first time.” When I inquired about this statement, the individual actually told me that they had tried to address this situation, but they were told, “We really never get things right the first time, but doing something is better than doing nothing. Besides, we usually have all the time we need to get it right the second time.” This is an interesting way of solving problems and allotting resources. One can only wonder how much time and money were wasted in getting it right “finally.” Plan and decide to save time and money by allowing sufficient time and resources to get things done correctly the first time.
- “I wish my leader took more time planning and thinking through the cost of things.” When I asked for the situation behind this statement, I was told that this leader would often make budgeting decisions when planning large projects without asking for input. Then when a project overran the specified budget, the leader would blame everyone for not working efficiently. Ironically, this happened numerous times and yet, no one above this leader ever addressed their behavior, and the folks below always ended up taking the blame. Don’t be afraid to ask for input.
- “I wish my leader would ask my opinion rather than assuming what I think and then telling me I am wrong.” The individual who shared this statement told me that her leader said that he just assumed what she was thinking and decided that she was wrong before he ever asked for her opinion. He told her this after she asked him why he never asked for her opinion. Often the people who do the work know more about what isn’t working than their leaders do. Taking a moment to ask for people’s opinion or to solicit their understanding of complex problems can pay huge dividends. Don’t assume everything you think you know.
Obviously, the individuals on the receiving end of such behavior have some responsibility to share their concerns and make requests that would make their work more efficient. For whatever reason, they didn’t feel comfortable in doing so. Taking the time to be clear, checking the time and resource commitments of those who will do the work, and being clear about priorities will greatly help. Additionally, planning and effective decision making can be greatly enhanced by soliciting the ideas and input of those doing the work.
If you include others in the processes of planning the work you will not only establish value for their contribution and expertise, but will also improve the quality of your results. Only then will the “I wish’s” that take a toll on your effectiveness go away.
John R. Stoker is the author of “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of DialogueWORKS, Inc. He has been in organizational development work for over 20 years helping leaders and individual contributors to learn the skills to assist them in achieving superior results. He has experience in the fields of leadership, change management, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked with such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and AbbVie. Connection with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.