Recent research by the American Management Association suggests that leaders are increasingly becoming out of touch with their employees and organizations. According to their analysis of more than 300 senior executives, managers and C-level executives, 51% appear to operate as if they are stuck in a bubble and cut off from the real world. Causes of leadership bubbles include failure of internal communications, the corporate culture, personality of the CEO and having too many “yes” men and women advising the C-suite leaders. The effects of leaders being out of touch range from poor employee engagement to unethical business behavior, with tale-tale signs including high turnover rates, poor execution, failures of alignment and lack of transparency around performance and results.
How can we avoid or effectively navigate this situation? In a word: communication. When leaders lose touch, communication is both a key indicator of the problem and a critical component for resolution. Our experiences, as executive coaches, tell us that the first step to being an in-touch leader is to regularly dialogue with and seek feedback from others. This feedback should come from a variety of sources such as rank-and-file employees, human resources professionals, executive coaches and other shareholders, as well as periodic assessments and surveys. To ensure success and begin establishing a culture that engages in honest feedback start by clarifying and sharing expectations with staff. Here it is important to discuss the purpose of feedback session (e.g., to generate ideas, drive growth, anticipate change, promote collaboration and to keep you grounded and informed about what is going on up/down and across the organization) as well as the process (e.g., frequent, specific feedback will be given during weekly huddle meetings as well as immediately when it involves a critical customer initiative).
In addition to helping leaders stay current, feedback sessions can also be used to develop employees. Regular conversations with direct reports affords us the opportunity to coach, give constructive feedback and praise our people when they need it most. It also helps us to be actively involved in performance management by monitoring and encouraging growth throughout the year and not only during the annual review or quarterly scorecard check-in.
To reinforce the commitment to being an in-touch leader, tell your staff members what they can expect of you. At a minimum this should include the following three assurances: (1) Let them know that you will work to communicate clearly, which includes letting them know the direction the organization is going and why. (2) Ensure your availability and pledge to give them frequent, specific and timely feedback around their goals and achievements. And, (3) agree to be candid, direct and honest, rather than beating around the bush or being overly diplomatic when delivering news – good or bad. This also implies that we will not punish employees for delivering bad news to us!
Research clearly shows that establishing and maintaining strong communication up, down and across the organization is paramount to developing trusting relationships, promoting teamwork and inspiring excellence. This level of connection also provides leaders with much needed insights for better decision-making. In short, employing feedback sessions is a cost effective, powerful way to begin improving organizational dynamics and motivating employee performance. Our experience says it can also help to create a more innovative culture over time, leading to greater engagement and profitability, which is clearly a win-win proposition.
My challenge to you is this: spend the next three months actively fostering an environment of open and honest communication with your employees and watch what happens. I think you will find yourself and your employees reaching for greater heights and doing so with a renewed commitment to being the best! Be sure to send me a note and let me know what happens.
- AMA Survey (2014) http://www.amanet.org/news/10076.aspx
- Talent Management (2015) http://www.talentmgt.com/articles/7589-burst-that-bubble-engaging-out-of-touch-leaders
- HBR (2016) What Your Leader Expects of You https://hbr.org/2007/04/what-your-leader-expects-of-you