How to Become an Open, Honest Leadership Team

Open sign

Guarded, careful tiptoeing, avoiding the pain. If this sounds like your company’s leadership team, you’re normal. I’ve lost count of the number of teams that act this way – there are so many.

I’ve also seen teams like this who experienced such a tremendous transformation that they are now seeing great business results and healthy team dynamics with much less effort. They have become abnormally great.

What did they do to experience this transformation? It was a simple shift in their mindsets.

How to Become Abnormally Great

The shift was realizing the importance of being open and honest in the moment.

Open – openminded to hearing perspectives that are different from yours

Honest – intentionally letting your guard down, being vulnerable

In the moment – right then and there, not stewing on something for days, weeks or months until you boil over!

Time after time, I’ve seen the tremendous impact of teams that become open and honest. But being honest in the moment is where many of them have struggled most.

There are three areas in particular that make honesty in the moment especially difficult, regardless of the issue. Maybe sales are down, you’re working around the clock, or you’re growing so fast you can’t keep up. These three issues make in-the-moment honesty feel like a dragon you can’t slay.

1) The Answer Isn’t Clear

You’ve got thoughts and opinions, but you aren’t confident that they’re the right ones so you hold back.

What to do: Acknowledge that the answer isn’t clear in your own mind, and leverage the perspectives in the room to clarify the issue together. This is one of the beauties of having a leadership team – leaning on each other for help, especially when we’re not clear ourselves about what we’re asking.

2) Honesty Is Painful

Some matters are risky, or incendiary, and it’s too uncomfortable to talk about openly. For example, you know exactly why things are off track: Bob isn’t pulling his weight on the team. He really shouldn’t be on the team, or with the company. This can be a very uncomfortable situation to simply have a conversation about.

What to do: Acknowledge that, yes, it will be uncomfortable, but avoiding the real issue is a choice. Realize that you have a CHOICE between long-term pain and short-term pain. Long-term pain means avoiding the issue, sweep it under the rug for now and deal with it later. The problem is later never comes and you’re always living with the pain of Bob not cutting it.

Short-term pain is the CHOICE of dealing with it head on. Yes, it will sting. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, it stings at first. But healing can begin once it’s ripped off.

Choose the uncomfortable route of short-term pain and address it right then and there.

3) Fear of Slowing the Team Down

If you bring up what you’re thinking, you’re certain that the team will get side-tracked on a tangential issue, and chew up time you don’t have. So instead of saying what’s on your mind, you hold back.

What do to: When you hold back for fear of slowing the team down, they often know that something is up. And as a result, the meeting tempo has slowed down because they’re all processing this. Assumptions and stories start running through their minds. In some cases, you could end up with more meetings to discuss what you were thinking in the original meeting. All because you wanted to avoid wasting time!

The key here is to acknowledge what’s going on in your mind. If the group decides to table it for now, that’s okay. At least it won’t be consuming their minds with assumptions and stories.

Who Suffers When You’re Not Honest in the Moment?

In all three scenarios, when your leadership team isn’t open and honest in the moment, the company is the one that suffers most. The amount of time that gets wasted tiptoeing around each other, playing nice, and creating extra meetings is outrageous. You’re throwing the company under the bus.

Making It Easier to Be Honest

I use fun stress toys with all of my clients to help ease the hurdle of being open and honest in the moment.

image of 4 stress toys to help leadership teams be open and honest

  • The Elephant – There’s an elephant in the room
  • The Cow – Someone is holding onto a sacred cow
  • The Bull – There’s a lot of B.S. (or a bully) in the room
  • The Horse – It’s time to stop beating the dead horse!

Teams use these fun stress toys to help each other become open and honest in the moment. When they feel that someone is holding back, they toss out the appropriate animal. It’s a fun, friendly way to call it out right then and there. And it’s a helpful way to get the uncomfortable stuff off your chest in the moment.

It’s natural for teams to be reluctant to being open and honest in the moment. Have a conversation about these points with your team to create awareness. Try using fun ways to help your team break through the uncomfortable stuff in the moment.

Go deeper for greater success—download Chapter 1 of Traction, the book that helps teams get aligned, become healthy, and find traction.

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This article originally appeared on the GPS for Small Business blog on January 25, 2017.

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