Susan C Foster

They Nod & Smile: But What Do They Really Think?

– Posted in: Leadership


6099162[1]Bill*, the Director of the organization, is excited about his new initiative.  Sure, it’s going to require changing a few systems and doing some things differently, but this is really going to impress the home office.

He laid it out in this morning’s executive staff meeting, telling the team how and when it would be done.

Some of the executive team looks down at their phones while he’s talking.  A few of them nod and smile politely.

He doesn’t ask for recommendations on what issues they think they may encounter to make this work.  Nor does he ask if his timeline makes sense.

So what is his team thinking?

Jan, Head of IT, is thinking about the myriad of systems this will involve and how much time it will take—and what about the other two high-priority projects that corporate headquarters has going?  Her staff is already working overtime.

Ben, the CFO, is remembering last week’s meeting where Bill said they had to cut costs this year. Seems revenue isn’t keeping up with the costs of corporate’s new initiatives.

Gail in Operations is worried about the building renovation.  Every time they are close to a design, Bill thinks of something else to add, including that new marble foyer right outside his office.

The Nodders and Phone Checkers have long since given up asking questions about priorities and cost benefits, or giving suggestions.  The last time one of them tried that, Bill put them in their place–accused them of being “negative” and “not strategic.”

To make a long story short, Bill’s organization did start his initiative.  Several months and lots of (spent) money later (with little progress and lots of challenges) it was abandoned when Bill had to explain his lack of progress on other projects at a corporate meeting.

Most of those problems (and delays) could have been anticipated and avoided (and Bill might have been a hero) if Bill had been the kind of leader whose team felt free to ask probing questions and give negative feedback on his ideas.

Specifically, Bill could have presented his idea with an open mind:  For example:  “I’m excited about this idea; therefore, I’m not likely to see the pitfalls in relation to what else we have going on.  I want to capture what these may be before we make any decisions about how to move forward.”

And mean it.   If he’s squelched his team’s ideas before, especially publicly, it’s going to take time before they will trust him enough to give him those ideas.

I want you to be a hero!! 

Your team may nod and smile–but are you getting (and accepting) the information you need to make good decisions?

*All names were changed—although the situation was real.


2 Comments… add one
rebecca@altaredspaces June 4, 2014, 2:38 pm

Isn’t it true? LIstening is at the heart of change. Taking people into our hearts. How often do we truly listen…and foster those people around us opening up and telling us what’s really in their hearts?

Susan June 4, 2014, 6:40 pm

So true, Rebecca! And I wonder if anyone will recognize themselves. Hey, I’ve done it myself so many times and wish I could go back and listen better.

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