It’s your company’s talent review meeting and high-level leaders are gathered in the corporate board room to share their reports with executives. You’re especially interested to hear from Kyle, a regional manager whose teams have experienced increasingly poor performance reviews over the past year.
However, when Kyle stands to speak, his responses do not reflect what reports are saying.
When the CEO asks specific questions, Kyle remains vague and overly optimistic. The company executives are frustrated that Kyle seems unaware of the need for improvement when the facts indicate things are not going well.
Kyle is what I call a “painter” leader. He takes a real-life situation and filters it through his personal interpretation, creating an inaccurate depiction of the facts.
Think of the French impressionist Claude Monet, who used loose brush strokes and unconventional color schemes to depict images. While most people can identify the general setting in Monet’s artwork, the scene’s specific details require imagination to discern the perspective of the artist.
Similarly, “painters” in the workforce have a subjective view of things. Their specific perceptions, preconceived notions or pre-judgements obstruct reality. Presenting a misguided picture of the truth will undoubtedly result in failure for both leaders and their employees.
Instead of painting their own image, leaders should strive to be “photographers,” capturing the entire truth of a situation and communicating it with unfiltered honesty.
Here are three relationships in which “photographer” honesty is crucial to improvement:
- Leader to employee. Talking to an employee about a performance issue can feel awkward. Instead of taking a critical attitude, approach the conversation in a way that shows your employee that you have their best interest at heart. Not only do you want to improve the company, but you also want to improve their personal and professional development. In order to be good stewards of talent, we must provide performance feedback and management of that talent. Employees who have clarity about their role, confidence in their ability to do their work and the support of their supervisors are more engaged to help strengthen a culture.’
- Employee to leader. I noticed that an employee seemed troubled, and I asked, “What’s wrong?” She told me about a situation in her department that was quickly getting out of hand. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized. “I feel like I just threw up on you!” I immediately reassured her that she did the right thing by making me aware of the situation. As leaders, we want to solve problems, but we can only solve the problems that we know exist. As a result, it is imperative for leaders to clearly communicate that you are approachable and open to honest discussions. This is not an invitation to complain, but rather an invitation to engage mature conversations about important issues. Opening the employee-to-leader communication channel is one of the best ways you can effectively guide your team.
- Leader to leader. Honest communication between leaders is fundamental to creating a compelling culture. Each member of your organization brings unique talent and perspective that is incredibly valuable to the company as a whole. When leaders speak openly with other leaders, sharing honest input with humility and respect, it can have a profoundly positive impact on their personal development and, therefore, the organization’s development. By adopting an atmosphere of “I need your help” rather than “I’ve got this,” leaders create an environment ready for success.
Truth telling is an investment we make in relationships—whether personal or professional. It takes a lot of time and thought, and sometimes, courage. However, when done well, there is probably no investment of time that pays a greater dividend. In the earlier example, it is imperative for leaders to have an honest and open dialogue with Kyle so he can take steps to improving his team, which ultimately improves the organization as a whole.
The best leaders understand that honest communication is invaluable for ensuring continued improvement and a strong culture.
How do you practice being a photographic leader?
Dee Ann Turner is vice president, Enterprise Social Responsibility, for Chick-fil-A, Inc. She has been with the company for over three decades. She previously served as the Chick-fil-A’s vice president, Talent and vice president, Human Resources. Her first book, It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture reveals the secret sauce behind building and growing Chick-fil-A’s revolutionary business model.