There’s a saying that it’s lonely at the top; it’s one way to describe executive isolation, a condition that many executives experience.
If you’re an executive leader, or you report to one, do these statements sound familiar?
“I’d like to see more constructive conflict in our organization.”
“Why didn’t we hear about this resource problem earlier?”
“Nobody gives me pushback.”
“How on earth could we miss our sales forecast by so much?”
These statements and questions are signs of executive isolation. When key decision makers aren’t getting authentic and real time information to guide the company, their business is at risk.
It would be easy to look at an executive team’s direct reports and assume that they aren’t aware of the situation or are reluctant to share the good, the bad and the ugly with their superiors.
In my experience,it’s the latter.
When executive leaders feel left out of the information loop or get information just before the train is going to hit the wall, it’s often the result of unintentional patterns by executives themselves that lead to the isolation syndrome. In most cases they aren’t even aware that their own actions lead to this condition. Let’s look at three examples.
- Leading means going first, but it doesn’t mean you should always talk first. If you know you want to go a certain direction, then say so and there is no need for discussion or debate. But if you truly are interested in what other people think about an idea or a complex business situation, you’ll kill it early if you, as the senior leader, come in with your ideas first. Let others share first, ideally prompted by some thought provoking questions from you.
- Get outside of the formal communication channels to hear what people really think. Townhalls are good ways to share information between different management levels; however you also need informal opportunities where people feel more intimacy and safety that lead them to share. Impromptu lunches or coffee breaks, dropping by a plant and catching up with folks on their breaks is a more natural setting for real sharing.
- Be visible and let people know how valuable their real, unfiltered feedback is for you and the leadership team. You’ve got to practice self discipline and not fly off the handle if someone shares surprising information with you.
If you and members of your executive team feel isolated, there is a good chance that it’s self-inflicted.
Explore and experiment with the practices I’ve suggested above, and I am confident you’ll be more “in the know” and able to engage with real time issues faster and more fully.
Photo: Dan Norenberg_Executive Isolation_Shutter Stock_112493561