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Why Your Team Fear You – And How To Change It

Your team is more scared of you than you think.

Let me rephrase that. They are more cautious, more reluctant, more reticent to share with you what they reeeaaaally think, than you think they are.

Even if you’re more approachable than mama’s sweet apple pie, you’re not as approachable as you might think. Your team members are ALWAYS acutely aware of the positional power you hold. The “this dude can fire me, limit my career, or at the very least make my life kinda unpleasant,” kind of awareness.

What does this mean?

Your team members are probably thinking a lot more than they are sharing with you.

What does that mean?

  • You’re inadvertently doing things that annoy your peeps.
  • If you were more self-aware, you could better support your team’s performance, growth and potential.
  • If you were to become aware of those things your team wish you’d stop doing (and then you were to stop doing them), it could have a direct, palpable influence on their performance. Your  team could even become the rock stars of the company.
  • Ultimately, the company would perform better. A lack of awareness leads to blocks in potential. Period.

And, what does that mean?

As a coach who coaches your direct reports, I’ll give you a heads up.

Here are just a couple of things you can do to reduce your team’s fear of speaking up:

  1. Ask, on a regular basis, “what can I start doing, right now, that would enable you to perform better?”  They are likely to mumble something along the lines of  “nothing, you’re great….” Don’t let them off the hook until they reply with at least one thing.
  1. Encourage them to challenge you. Questions for starters? “What’s wrong with my idea?” “Can someone play Devil’s Advocate to the idea I just came up with?” “Who has a completely different idea to mine that might be equally as pertinent for us to consider?” Once again, don’t take “nothing” for an answer.
  1. When they do challenge you, give “constructive feedback” or merely say, “you’re being a dick” (people may deliver you feedback in a clunky, unskilled way); even then, look for the nugget of gold, the essence of the feedback. Don’t react like a pillock. Be your best self – not Dr Defensive.
  2. Never being challenged by those you lead? Hint – this ain’t a good sign. Start from tip number one and go from there.

[Tweet “When your team challenge you, don’t be Dr Defensive – always look for the nugget of gold.”]

I’m not suggesting you have to act on every piece of feedback you receive. That would be CRAAAAZY.

But, DO be acutely aware of themes. If more than one person said – “you don’t listen in meetings,” – that’s your cue to perk up and lean in.

Finally, given you are probably cautious to be really honest with your own boss, ask yourself –

“What would he/she need to do/say for me to feel safe enough to say what I think.”

Then do that yourself. You can thank me later.

Or even better, if this post resonates with you, you could accidentally let it land in your boss’s inbox. They could do worse things than follow The Leaders’ Digest  🙂

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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