Get the Facts
Ever had a direct report storm into your office, telling you the sky is falling? The messenger seemingly expected and even enjoyed watching you spring into action, attack the problem or person behind it, and deal with the drama in superhero style. Admittedly, “saving the day” felt great — until you learned there was more to the story than what this individual told you. You reacted inappropriately, without enough of the right information. Then you had to mop up the messy mistake because you failed to get all the facts…and from more than just one source. Remember, good decision-making is part of great leadership. Without the facts, you simply can’t make the best decision and take appropriate action.
How can you be more effective at fact-gathering?
Watch out for instigators. There really are individuals out there who get a little thrill creating unnecessary drama, so it’s likely you’ll be tested by such types at various times in your leadership career. And here’s a personal fact: In my earlier days as a leader, my leadership style was less mature and more reactionary. Whenever anyone came to me with a problem, I’d just try to solve or eliminate it as soon as possible. I’ve since learned to handle it in two ways: 1) demand that the direct report provide two solutions for every problem they present; and 2) gather a healthy mix of qualitative and quantitative facts before taking action on a problem or opportunity. This two-step approach took some years to cultivate, but today it helps me get a clearer picture of the situation and possible solutions. It also often buys more time, which helps with deflating those initial, flight-or-fight reactionary emotions.
Train direct reports to bring you facts (not just their feelings). Simply make this a requirement, communicating it verbally and on paper. Now, that’s not to say that people can’t talk about what they’re feeling or thinking, but if a decision is to be made, demand that they back up their claims with facts, documentation or research, so you can address them properly. And adopt this within your own leadership style, so that every time you’ve got a problem, you’re modeling how to manage it by presenting the facts, not just feelings or assumptions related to the issue. Then like a good reporter, remember to check the facts (both quantifiable and qualifiable) whether it’s you or someone else who is presenting them. This may take some time or involve other resources, but it can help prevent serious, embarrassing and/or costly mistakes. It will also transform the mechanics and morale of your workplace culture.
Remember, “facts” are your friend, no matter how painful. But this is the kind of pain from which you and your direct reports can learn and improve. This “good pain” produces the gift of opportunity, a gateway for possible growth and achievement. So don’t be afraid to uncover the truth. Unearthing and using facts to your company’s advantage is part of being a competent, fearless leader.
Do you struggle with “getting the facts” from your direct reports — why or why not?