Do you think your employees tell you what they really think when you ask them?

I am often struck by how surprised some of the leaders I coach are when presented feedback about their leadership style collected from their teams.  A common reaction is disappointment and even annoyance at not having been told about someone’s frustration or opinion directly.

“I can’t see why they just don’t tell me these things directly,” is a common lament.

In an organizational setting, the higher up you are in a position of authority, the more formal control you have over your senior staff members’ next career move, promotion, and continued livelihood.

It is unlikely that you are getting candid feedback.

Here are the top five reasons why you may not be getting direct and honest feedback from your team.

1.  Fear of Retribution

As people move up to higher leadership levels in the organization, there is more at stake.  Bonuses and stock options are as important as the steady paycheck.  With shrinking budgets and impending reorganizations looming, everyone is potentially on the chopping block.  Why would I risk angering my boss with a potentially controversial or unflattering assessment or comment and potentially lose favor?  It’s better to smile and nod my head than to say what I really think and then be the first one to get axed when the cutbacks start.

2.  Your Inner Circle Tells You What You Want to Hear

Do the few people seen to be in your inner circle “yes” you to death?  Do they publically compliment you constantly and flatter you endlessly?  Do they speak about how masterfully you handled a presentation without pointing out how quiet the room was when questions were solicited?  Do these people become your inner circle by telling you what you want to hear?  Your other team members watch how these folks behave and quickly learn the game.

Tell you what you want to hear = favor.  Tell you what you don’t want to hear= not a good thing.  So the behavior that is reinforced is telling you what you want to hear.  No-one then wants to tell the emperor or empress that he/she has no clothes.

3.  You Get Defensive

When someone on your team disagrees with you in a meeting, do you seek to understand and really listen to their perspective?  Or do you cut them off, defend your stance, and see them as unsupportive of the changes you are trying to make?  No-one wants to be branded as not on board with the company direction and commit career suicide by doing so.  It is easier and safer to say nothing or exhibit dysfunctional passive-aggressive behavior after I leave the meeting than to be seen as confrontational and unsupportive in the meeting.

4.  You Don’t Really Listen

Do you listen carefully and fully to what people are telling you or are you just listening for reinforcing comments?   Sometimes people are trying to tell you something in a cryptic way rather than directly, and it is easy to miss if you aren’t carefully tuned in.  Are you usually attentive, focused, and perceived to be in receive mode, or just on transmit?

5.  People Don’t Think You Care

Do you routinely solicit your team’s opinions and feedback?  Do you make changes based on their suggestions?  Do you show your vulnerabilities and admit your shortcomings in an open and authentic way?  Or do you give the impression that it is “my way or the highway” and frown at disagreement?

Getting honest feedback is tough the higher you go up in an organization.  If you really want it, you have to make a greater effort to show that you do and that you value it.

What changes can you make in your behavior to allow more candid feedback to come your way?

As always–drop me a note with your experiences.  I love hearing about them.