A s a business owner, chairman of the board, CEO, district vice president, or store manager, can an employee tell you “no” without getting fired? Does anyone have the courage to tell you that two-letter word?
The inability of a boss to allow free speech is one of the principal reasons why he or she fails. No one is right all the time, and having a muse that can tell you “no” will improve your effectiveness as a leader. Although this is a business culture issue, it really reflects the DNA of a leader. The thin-skinned, arrogant tone of many corporate leaders demonstrates a lack of humility. That is the chief reason why I bet there are more company “yes people” now than at any other time in history.
I hear a lot of executives complain excessively about millennial workers and their tender feelings, but many in this generation of business leaders should keep their hands in their pockets and not point fingers. If you are the boss and your feelings get hurt easily, then you need to beam yourself back to reality.
For those who cut their teeth in this industry 20 and 30 years ago, climbing the ladder was harder. For every manager-in-training position or promotion, there was a line five deep of bright young people fighting to get the same spot, because everyone yearned for something better. The competitiveness meant you had to work harder, excel, and have very thick skin. You had to earn your leadership positions by being more than just a “yes person.”
If the culture of your company is that the boss is always right, all you will hear is “yes sir” or “yes ma’am.” The good ideas, the warnings, or adjustments to the plan will never be spoken. Keep in mind that unless it is unmitigated hatred, an employee will never sabotage the boss. Good employees don’t want you to fail. After all, they are strapped into the same boat.
By nature, most employees do not want to tell the boss the plan is wrong or that they are making a mistake. The slightest resistance to negative feedback will shut them down. As the boss, you must continuously challenge your employees to speak their minds without fear of retribution.
If you want to build a free-speech culture in your organization and improve your effectiveness, here are a few recommendations:
- Tell your employees that you are open to any comments as long as they are respectful, and that you will show them the same respect.
- Truly listen. The best ideas will come from your employees.
- Never openly criticize a bad idea or suggestion—there are times employees just don’t understand all of the ramifications.
- If you are thin-skinned or a narcissist, volunteer at a shelter for those in need. It will remind you that we are all equal in the eyes of God.
It is my nature to be a free-speech type of leader. I grew up in a time when different opinions were celebrated because it meant we lived in a nation that had free speech. Today, I have never seen so many people scared of words, and it appears to have bled over into our businesses. That’s bad for everyone. So, tell me what you think and I promise you, I won’t get mad.