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Tell me why it sucks.

As a new leader one of the challenges you face is that people are not yet comfortable in disagreeing with you. Their previous boss they may have publically chastised or punished them for speaking up and pointing out the flaws with the boss’ ideas. As a new leader this poses a roadblock to the culture you are seeking to create that encourages open and honest dialogue and discourse so you can identify problems and flaws in advance of implementing new plans and ideas.

In his book How’s the Culture in Your Kingdom? Lessons from a Disney Leadership Journey, Dan Cockerell offers some thoughts on one way to address this.

“Next time you pitch an idea and people tell you it is great, respond by saying, “Thank you for the positive feedback—now tell me why my idea sucks!””

“Other times, you may encounter a “yes man” who just goes through the motions. In that case, you will have to teach them to be candid. Sometimes, I would prompt some people by saying, “Thank you for agreeing with me, but please tell me why I am mistaken,” or, better yet, “Thank you for being so positive but, now, please tell me why my idea sucks.”

How you respond when people accept that challenge and demonstrate the courage to tell you why you are mistaken, or why your idea sucks is critical. Your reaction is what everyone is watching and waiting for.

“Actions speak louder than words. Words cost nothing. Actions can cost everything.”

Aleksandra Layland

If you get mad, defensive or pout because of what was said, then you have just shut down any further, as well as any future, discussion, dissent, dialogue and debate. Once you have broken the proposed contract that it ok to disagree and speak opening and honestly, the damage will likely be hard to repair.

If you do react in a less desirable manner then be big enough to stand up, own up and immediately and sincerely apologize. Let them know that you are a work in progress and will make a lot of mistakes in your leadership journey and this was one of those mistakes. Once you own up and apologize then go back and seek to reopen the door of discussion on the topic.

It is critical for the success of your team to have an environment where it is ok to dissent. If everyone is in agreement all the time then you headed down a dangerous path and need to revisit the culture. This is about being professional, open and honest, not “brutally honest”. I have seen too many groups where the brutally honest feedback simply focuses on the brutal aspect and can go downhill quickly.

“Tell me why I am mistaken.” And “Tell me why my idea sucks.” Can be useful concepts for you as a leader.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop can help you on your leadership journey.

Brian Willis