One of the toughest challenges facing executives is getting candid and unfiltered feedback. I’m not talking about the usual gripes every boss hears. Some of the most valuable perspectives for executives include opinions and points of view contrary to what they may think they want to hear. This applies to everything from making big decisions, evaluating the clarity of their strategy, the strength of their teams, and other critical issues facing the business.
Years ago, I spent an afternoon with several members of the senior team of a company where the CEO had spent millions of dollars on a project. To a person, each of the senior managers I spoke with believed from the beginning that the project was destined to fail. I had to ask: why they didn’t speak up and voice their concerns? In short, they believed that the CEO’s reaction to their honesty would have been much like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: “Off with their heads!”
If you’re going to lead effectively, you need to understand the perspective of those you lead about what’s happening in the field, what the real forecast looks like, or the challenges people have in executing your strategy. If you want that level of candor, you’ll need to go out of your way to get it.
Start by inviting dissenting opinions and making it safe for people to give you their real opinions. Specifically, ask people what they think isn’t working or where they see issues or potential problems that you may be missing. Emphasize that you value critical feedback and thank them for their willingness to share unpopular news with you. You may have to make multiple requests, especially if you’ve got a reputation for not reacting well or even punishing the messenger bringing bad news. Welcoming opposing viewpoints doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything you hear or accommodate every suggestion. But it will help you identify blind spots and ultimately give you a much stronger understanding of what’s happening in your business.