Do you let your people say, "Houston we MAY have a problem"?
I recognize that in your team's culture, you want to keep things positive. Positivity is contagious. And a positive team is certainly more productive - and effective - than a less-than-positive team.
One of the downsides to that is, when we focus on keeping things positive our people have a tendency to want to filter out any bad news, risks or reality. Some leaders may even have an unspoken rule of “Don’t bring me no bad news.”
The problem with this approach is that these leaders don’t truly know the state of their team’s business, initiatives, projects and culture. And it comes as a complete surprise when risks and bad outcomes actually do happen.
If I can think of one of the big rules in leadership it would be “No surprises.” I never want to be surprised (unless you throw me a surprise party!), and neither should you. As a leader you should always know the state of your team and be embarrassed when you don’t. I believe every leader I talk to feels the same way.
If you're leading a high-performing team, then they should be focused on complete collaboration. While that means you collaborate with each other, that also means you collaborate up and down your management chain. And full collaboration means keeping your leadership up-to-date on everything you’re working on, especially if there are any issues.
We're all human. None of us are perfect. I make mistakes. I drop balls. I don’t follow up on everything as well as I should. You likely do the same. But that doesn’t excuse anyone from sweeping those mistakes under the rug or not letting leadership know when they occur.
At the heart of collaboration is mutual trust. And with that trust is an allowance for you to be brave. Be brave enough to say, “Houston, we MAY have a problem" before it actually becomes a problem. Share information on possible risks and bad news as early as you can. If you do, it’s likely your leader will give you resources, tools and decisions to help mitigate the risks before they get out-of-hand.
And in that mutual trust, your leader needs to trust that you'll meet your commitments and that you'll share pertinent information with them before it comes as a surprise. And your leader is here to help you. When you have a problem, meet with them and share your recommendation on how to solve it. Present your recommended solution and ask for their support. If you're unsure on how to solve it, make it clear that you'd like their advice. They may have ideas on how to help you. They may have resources available. They may be able to move a commitment date. They may be able to request additional resources. They may be able to contact a client directly to help smooth things over. And if they're not able to help, they need to have all necessary information digested so they can communicate early up to their leader – for all of the same reasons.
Of course there may be times when your leader isn't happy with the update you provide. But it'll be better to let them know as soon as possible rather than have them be surprised when they hear it from someone else or at the point when it's much more difficult to resolve.
And if you let it get to that point, then you'll really have a problem.
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