Fostering candid debate is critical for effective leadership. Many leaders think of themselves as open to being challenged or contradicted. Yet in practice there are two issues: 1. a significant portion of people simply tend to avoid conflict and “yes” the one in charge, and 2. the supposedly open-minded leader may have a blind-spot tendency to go on offense or defense when challenged, sending the signal agreement is strongly preferred. Be attentive to how you respond to being challenged, questioned, or contradicted, and give your people extra leeway when they do so. Absent that, the quality of your own leadership will be limited, as your team will give you what you want to hear, rather than what you need to know.
- In one-to-one meetings with your direct reports, ask for extra-candid feedback about the way you tend to respond to being told “no” or “I disagree.”
- If you discover you tend to send mixed signals about your level of openness to challenge, ask what you can do to increase the quality of debate / disagreement with you.
- If you notice individuals tend to avoid conflict, coach them on it, providing them support to be bolder in their input to you.
Based on client experiences / lessons learned, our weekly LeaderTips have been offering self-coaching themes and topics of interest to leaders since 2004. They are often published in BusinessWeek Online, sent weekly to our clients, and hundreds of other corporate leaders worldwide. I invite you to forward them to others, who are also welcome to subscribe using the link below. Note that over 100 of these tips appear in my book, Beyond Effective: Practices in Self-aware Leadership. Click here to subscribe to LeaderTips via email.