True Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Get Naked

The art of being vulnerable

Leadership isn’t just about being open to employees’
thoughts and insights and ideas. It’s about giving your employees permission to be open as well. But if
leaders don’t open up and show their vulnerability first, it’s highly unlikely employees will take the risk. As a result, leaders won’t get
what they really need from their employees: actionable feedback.

It takes courage for leaders to be vulnerable, but the results can be spectacular, as communications strategist Carmine Gallo pointed out in a Forbes article last year. He wrote about an obscure organization in Derby, Connecticut called Griffin Hospital. Griffin was a deeply troubled health care facility back in the 1980s until one day it hired a new CEO named Patrick Charmel. Charmel began to ask for honest feedback from employees,
doctors, nurses, patients, and former patients. He listened, and then gave them what they asked for. The results were miraculous. Within months, Griffin had transformed itself into
one of the best places to work in America.
Is there a risk to asking for the truth? Of course. But
there’s a far greater risk in not asking it, as the shareholders of many companies have found to their dismay. Great
leaders embrace change. They don’t fear it. They encourage feedback, both positive and negative. They put policies and procedures in
place that allow change to be communicated efficiently and effectively. Effective
change management is not about “warm and fuzzy”. On the contrary, it’s all
about employee WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?” And that ultimately translates into WIIFM for the CEO.
Far fewer organizations follow effective change practices than
do not. And the lack of openness by top executives is a major reason why
change management programmes continue to fail nearly 70 per cent of the time. It’s
not that we don’t have enough good leaders; it’s that we don’t allow these good
leaders to shine. 

“The problem isn’t the lack of potential leaders, however,
but a wrongheaded notion of what exactly a leader is,” said Bill George, Medtronic’s
former CEO, in the October 30, 2006 issue of US News and World Report.
“This misguided notion of leadership often results in the wrong people
attaining critical leadership roles. […] The good news is that there is no
shortage of people with the capacity to lead.” 

Employees and managers need room to grow and lead, because the
faster they grow and lead, the faster their organization will grow and lead. In
contrast, disaffected and disengaged and constricted employees can’t grow and
neither can the companies they work for. A case in point: what happens when employees
at a company are not listened to and recognized? And what happens when employees
at a company are listened to? There is a remarkable difference, as these recent
Glass Door comments attest.
Recent comments from employees at an under-performing S&P 500 company:
  •  “Extremely flat organizational structure. It is
    extremely hard to advance unless you are a part of the inner circle”
  •   “No creativity or human interaction”
  • “Senior management are out of touch and focused
    only on bottom line. Would have stayed on if management stuck to their promises
    and focused on growth and not revenue.”
Now compare these responses from an outperforming S&P 500 company:  
  • “Great access to senior management”
  •  “The company values are good. Customer
    experience is the number 1 priority. Sales is second.”
  • “…provides a unique work environment and
    employee culture that invokes personal growth and development”
  • “Great corporate culture/tone from the top
    compared to other Canadian banks.”
Wondering about the identity of the companies? The negative
comments were from Hewlett Packard employees while the positive comments were
from TD Bank employees.
If leaders truly want
their companies to outperform, they need to leave their egos at the door and
allow themselves to be vulnerable to positive feedback. To borrow from Patrick Lencioni,
they need to get naked. If they do, the payoff is tremendous, because according
to the 2013-2014 Towers Watson’s Change & Communication ROI Study,
organizations with effective and open change and communication practices are
3.5 times as likely to significantly outperform their peers. 
And that’s the naked truth.

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