Seth Godin has done it again, this time with only about fifty words. In his blog on honest communication (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) posted on April 21, Seth uncovers perhaps the number one issue in the business world today, lack of an ability to discuss reality. As a consultant I often wonder whether problems exist because of lack of talent, lack of effort or lack of imagination. I find, more often than not, it is because of the lack of communication. Oh, people talk, email and text constantly but they are often so very afraid to tell the truth. Maybe as Seth says, it is a fear that the status quo will be upset by this communication. He says, if this is the case, you should seek professional help as being able to have substantial conversations is critical to your professional life and for the enterprise.
Maybe, every company should have as part of its new hire orientation a required reading of Hans Christian Anderson’s children’s story about the emperor with no clothes. I do wonder if that should even be a children’s story? The story as you will recall is about a leader who was swindled by a couple of alleged designers (consultants?) into believing that he was wearing the most incredible set of clothes ever made and that only the lowly and ignorant could not see the beauty. Not wanting to show his ignorance the king agreed that, even though he was completely naked, the clothes were truly remarkable. When he went out in public all of his “yes men” and those he surrounded himself with told him how wonderful the clothes were, even though they truly saw he was naked. It took a small child from the crowd to finally say the emperor had no clothes on. We all laugh at the silliness of the story, but in reality doesn’t this happen all the time in business?
Perhaps the most important success factor in any organization is the degree of open and candid conversation that is demanded by the leaders. Oh, everyone says they have that just like everyone says they have an open door policy, but what is important is how much actually happens. Do leaders build their teams with those who agree with them or with those who will challenge them? Are contrarian views encouraged or constantly pushed back with comments about how that will never work or why don’t you get on board? Are the outspoken in the organization viewed as troublemakers or rewarded for their courage? Do people in the organization actually fear their career, or livelihood, will be hurt if they question their leaders?
One of the crazy secrets of business is that most people in an organization recognize when their leaders are wrong. They talk about it, laugh about it and even write about it anonymously on Cafepharma. Often times, they also have a better idea or could lay out a better way forward than that proposed by the leaders. Isn’t that how we consultants make money? We talk with those throughout the organization, listen to their ideas and then recommend to leadership a better way based a lot on what we hear. Why do companies need people in the middle? Why do leaders always need to feel their ways are right? Or perhaps the more relevant question would be why does everyone else in the organization think that way about the leaders? Why are they afraid to speak out? To point out nakedness when there are no clothes? Seth is right, professional help might be needed before your career, the project, and even the organization, is doomed.