You had to hand it to the Executive Council of the company. They found new ways to try to get the pulse of the company. In anticipation of the latest all hands meeting, they had harnessed the power of social media to get the opinions of the employees. A site had been set up where employees could write their questions of the Executive Council. Employees could also vote on those questions, improving their ranking.
This wasn’t just a fanciful test of technology. For the past three years, the Executive Council had been the recipient of increasingly poor rankings of trust and leadership, as expressed by the employees. As they were in the midst of the latest survey, and that Board of Directors would be watching the scores, it was important for them to be seen as wanting to get the voice of the employee.
The employees did not disappoint. The questions were sharp, to the point, and pulled no punches. Those questions expressed frustration, anger, and distrust. If those questions were answered in a forthright way that equally pulled no punches, it would reflect a new era in relations between those who were governing and those who were governed.
Based on the title of this article, I think you can guess what happened.
The all hands meeting came around, and, as promised, the top vote getting questions were selected, asked, and then answered. The answers were safe. The answers were careful. They answers were the same things that were heard every single time the questions were asked. No bold promises were made. No trails were blazed. No responsibility taken by any of the executives…only responsibilities assigned by the executives, saying the employees had to find their own answers. For every question asked, a buck was passed. It would never be the executive’s fault that promotions were not given, or bonuses lacked, or that there was unfair treatment. What did the employees hear? “Don’t bother us, peons, we have governing to do”.
The employees left the meeting with ironic smiles on their faces. Once again they had been duped. They had been asked for their opinions, with the implicit promise that these questions, no matter how painful, would be answered. They were answered…with the same trite phrases that had been used by the executives of the company since time immemorial.
One of the greatest traits that an executive can have is that of courage. Many will claim they do have it, usually in response to the latest round of layoffs or cuts they have authorized. That, I suggest, is not courage.
Courage is admitting that you may be wrong in your approach. Courage is having a willingness to listen and change. Courage is addressing questions with the same frankness as they have been asked. Courage is making yourself vulnerable, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and be willing to try the new and innovative, even if it means you won’t be as comfortable or secure as it once was.
Courage is not providing the same, trite answers to questions, but realizing there is something deeper in those questions. It is finding out why those questions were asked in the first place and taking bold, innovative steps to address them.
Come to think of it, that is also called Leadership.