Vanessa Fudge, Founder, Leading Well
Telling How it is
When my grandmother, my great uncle and my mother landed in Sydney in 1947, having left Austria via Switzerland, they were routinely struck by the directness of the Australian people. My grandmother would go to a café to order food and in her Austrian accent would ask “would you be so kind please to let me know if you could provide us with….” Yet she did not get to finish her sentence as the person behind the counter told her to “shut up luv and tell me what you want”. While this somewhat harrowing story still jars me with sensations of culture shock, it nonetheless contains a vital key. Australian’s can be exceptionally capable of direct communication and do love a no-nonsense approach.
So too do teams appreciate being told the truth regarding the organisation, its performance, its mistakes and its dynamics.
Not infrequently when organisations make fatal mistakes that can range from corruption through to human error there are cover-ups. When poor judgement endangers the solvency of an organisation the classic move is pin it on a few key leaders, remove them and bring in a new guard that blames the departed for decisions that were detrimental. Sound familiar? Royal commissions generally result in just this. And lets not look at parliamentary elections.
Yet covering up reality can also be at a more mundane, personal level. It could even be as simple as a leader taking feedback personally when in reality it was helpful information to avoid disengaging their people. These moments in time are golden opportunities to reengage colleagues who have been witness to poor decision-making by simply calling it out. Leaders who can step aside from their desire to protect their own personal brand and demonstrate a care for the greater team, command a presence that connects not just minds but also hearts.
Recently an Executive team gathered for a development day and a CEO client of ours invited feedback, declaring, ‘I have only been a CEO for five years, I know I still have quite a bit to learn’. This created an opening for a new conversation that in time unearthed multiple blind spots and eventually led to a commitment to a culture shift where mistakes were no longer hidden in shame but instead were unpacked for learning.
We often talk about the notion of a “quality fail”. This means openly unpacking what went awry in any given task or project and garnering valuable learning to safeguard future decisions. It’s is the opposite of the classic tale of “the emperors’ new clothes” where all could see a naked leader and yet none were brave enough to call it out, instead issuing fawning compliments of non-existing garments that all knew to be missing.
This form of unspoken belonging rule, that we MUST NOT, at all cost, speak about certain people or events over time changes the very shape of human dynamics and interferes with flow. To speak entails breaking a sense of innocence and taking on the guilt of breaking a bond with those around us and risking the same exclusion that surrounds the event or person itself. In contrast, organisations that regularly “tell it like it us” invite a greater liberty for acknowledging and seeking truth that inevitably lowers the risk of repeating unhealthy patterns and getting stuck in the face of vital change.
As a leader, are you sitting on valuable opportunities to call out truths that could be hindering your organisation, not to lay blame but to move on from what could be inhibiting new growth and creativity?
As you venture into your days this week, look around and ponder, where could you be “telling it how it is” to release energy back into your teams and increase capacity at work.