Do you remember the saying, “It’s lonely at the top?” Leadership is a lonely business. We often rely on our own perspectives of how we are doing; and when we do, it’s easy to develop blind spots and rationalize our behaviors in ways that can quickly undermine our credibility, integrity and trust with those who look to us for leadership.
I’ve written before about how surprised I was the first time I received a 360-review when I worked at Warner-Lambert. The review was a surprise because the anonymous feedback was brutally honest and pointed out that I had blind spots to certain behaviors that failed to reflect the intentions of my heart. As a result, my credibility with those I led suffered.
When faced with the honest assessment, I had a choice of either one of two paths to take: allow myself to become a victim and martyr or accept the feedback as a gift and work to improve myself. If I chose the former, I could have permitted my feelings to blossom into resentment or self-justification. This would have been my downfall and I would have failed as a manager.
Instead, I chose the latter and committed to a detailed diagnostic and developed an action plan to overcome the negative perceptions with my leadership. I asked everyone I influenced to hold me accountable and within one year my 360-feedback was a complete reversal from the year before. The negative feedback was gone. People were now saying I was the best manager they ever worked with. If it wasn’t for my truth tellers, I might never have been able to climb the corporate ladder. My career would have come to a standstill.
We all need trusted truth tellers who can help keep us on course. Having people we trust who will tell us the truth we might not always want to hear is one of the greatest resources for growth that we have. If you bring truth tellers into your inner circle and let them know you are willing to listen, they will speak honestly to you. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything they tell you, but hear them anyway. They want to be heard and know you care about what they have to say. And don’t be afraid to share your vulnerabilities with them. Being open to feedback is only one way to grow. Willingness to disclose our vulnerabilities with other people is another way to grow. We are all human. We are all vulnerable. We all fall short.
The Servant Leader challenge for today is to identify at least one person you trust and ask them to join you as a truth teller about your effectiveness and style of leadership. Truth tellers protect us from ourselves by being always ready to listen, giving advice when asked and being trusted to love us anyway, warts and all. Eventually, invite three others and form a supportive group of accountability relationships.
The funny thing is, I’m married to one of the best truth tellers anyone could hope for. I could have saved Warner-Lambert thousands of dollars in leadership training if I had only listened to my wife in the first place! Don’t overlook your spouse as one of your most trusted inner circle.