As a leader, it is often difficult to get truthful and accurate information from your subordinates on the operations and running of your team. Regardless of how much you ask during 1:1’s or during side conversations on how well everything is going, you always receive the same response “Things are going great”. A great explanation of this is Celine’s Second Law which states:
Wilson rephrases this himself many times as “communication occurs only between equals.” Celine calls this law “a simple statement of the obvious” and refers to the fact that everyone who labors under an authority figure tends to lie to and flatter that authority figure in order to protect themselves either from violence or from deprivation of security (such as losing one’s job). In essence, it is usually more in the interests of any worker to tell his boss what he wants to hear, not what is true.
In any hierarchy, every level below the highest carries a subtle burden to see the world in the way their superiors expect it to be seen and to provide feedback to their superiors that their superiors want to hear. In the end, any hierarchical organization supports what its leaders already think is true more than it challenges them to think differently. The levels below the leaders are more interested in keeping their jobs than telling the truth.
The fact that most employees feel that in order to keep their jobs, they need to tell their supervisors/managers what they want to hear rather then how things really are. This is a sign of trust and safety being absent from your relationship and the culture you have built. I will cover more on Safety and Trust in separate posts and how to build them. At this point, understand that in order to gain actual feedback from your subordinates, you will need to create a safe environment and trust with each and every one of them. This is done during 1:1’s as well as follow through to commitments that you set with them. If you are a leader and you are stating “my guys are open and honest with me”, then one of two things have happened:
1. You have built a team based on trust and safety at which point you probably are not reading this post.
2. You think you have but the answers you get are always positive.
All Positive Feedback
If you are getting all positive feedback regarding how you are doing and how the team is going, your subordinates do not feel comfortable with you or the environment you have to be honest with you. There should never be 100% positive feedback regarding the work environment from 100% of your people. This usually means that all the easy and good things are being communicated, but people are normally not being held accountable for their actions or important information about improvements are being left out of the conversations. If you are not receiving constructive feedback, you probably are not giving it. Please read my other posts on how impacts of positive feedback for more information.