A lot of people ask me, “As an executive leader, how do you create an environment where the people who ultimately report to you can look you in the eyes and criticize you for the sake of the business?”
If someone came to you and said, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but when you kick-off 5 projects art once, we just don’t know what’ to consider a priority.” What would be your reaction? Some CEOs think that creating an environment that’s open to discussion is just asking your people to criticize, argue, or worse. And on the employee side, “honest discussion” often means they’ll say things that get them in trouble. Being honest with their executive leader means the leader will dismiss their opinions, see the employee as disrespectful, or even fire them.
You have to be open to authentic discussions, or you’re never going to be a world-class CEO.
I was fortunate. I had a MAP coach in there with me while I ran these meetings, and he helped me create a safe space where my leadership team could tell me their problems and offer criticism, and where I could hear that criticism and benefit from it.
It’s easy to be defensive. But instead, I looked at it, and I said, “You guys are right, and thank you for sharing with me. I’m going to be better for that.” It didn’t need to be resolved right away. The appropriate response is to thank them, and then go ponder it for a while until you find a way to address and learn from the issue. I think it always comes back to a willingness to have those candid conversations. At the end of the day, you need to be able to accept feedback. Getting feedback means people care about you, that they’re willing to risk themselves in order to help you become a better person, a better leader. Why should they go through that process if they don’t care?
But if you have people that are willing to give you honest, constructive feedback, be grateful for it. The best gift you can get is getting candid opinions from people who want to help you succeed. If you can’t accept that gift, then you’re the one losing out. You’ll never get where you want to be.
Part of what made my company successful, is being willing to listen – to our customers, to our metrics, and to ourselves. We empowered people. We wanted them to get better, they wanted us to get better. We had a common interest, a common purpose. And that’s what made us succeed.