Faux Pas: Telling Leaders What They Want to Hear

In our first meeting, one of my clients said straight faced and unapologetically, ‘We’re map and chart people. We like to know where we are and where we are going.”

Given his military career, I actually found this more a reminder re: what my approach with said client should be rather than any clear indicator about expectations pertaining to the actual machinations of his leadership team.

If I’m honest, I was actually looking forward to the challenge of further refining the inputs and outputs of an already ‘ship shape team’.

Sadly, on meeting his team, I realised the promise of dealing with a leadership team that knew where they were and where they were going was short lived.

And as always, it was up to me to tell my client – the former commando.

So… with my spanks providing a faux body armour, distance and tech providing the ultimate protection from an unruly in person onslaught, I sat down and typed my response.

Which basically proceeded to tell him, he’d built a team of ‘yes men’ who told him what they thought he wanted to hear, rather than upset him with what he needed to know in order to make the best possible decisions for his business.

As always, these bold statements were followed up with examples (per team member). Insights which included both the strategic and fiscal costs to the business, softened with proposed solutions re: ways to evolve their working relationships.

I knew it wasn’t an ideal report for any entrepreneur to receive so on hitting send I cringed before remembering, honesty is the best policy in these situations. Besides, sugar coating has NEVER been my thing.

Ten minutes later my phone rang.

Taking a deep breath, I prepared for the inevitable barrage which went something like this…

“Holy f*ck Tiff (long intimidating pause)… You certainly didn’t hold back, did you..?”

“What did you disagree with?” I enquired knowing his response would dictate whether I decided to continue working with him and his team.

You see, post lock down I’d instigated a no dickheads policy. While this cleared a couple from my client list, it also ensured I was working with leaders who actually wanted to resolve issues, not just appear to be doing so.

Then he did something that I thought no-one could do – shock me.

“Nothing.” he laughed.

“Okay. ” I said, moving him off the dickhead list and wanting to work with him more than ever.

To his credit, he already knew what the problem was. He was looking for someone to work with that would tell him the truth no matter what the consequence. The job he actually hired me for, had NOTHING to do with his leadership team.

He needed a sounding board to help him navigate his strategic way forward. Someone he could rely upon not to sugar coat the reality in fluff.

It’s often times difficult for leaders to find that confidante for those times when they just need an ear, or someone else to verbalise the issues they’re already thinking and feeling but don’t want to admit to, in order to propel themselves and their organisations forward.

Adding to his problem however, was like all leaders in an array of situations, despite a distinguished career and brilliant mind he was in that space where we can sometimes find ourselves in life – Doubting ourselves. He was doubting his inner voice in deference to the observational random voices he’d hired and was paying good money to.

Sure, he was mid crisis of confidence… and it can happen to the best of us at the most inopportune times – on any given day, but he was actively resolving the deficit in his own support network in order to ensure the next best steps were taken.

So next time you feel as though you’re too ‘in your head’ and not sitting in your strengths and experience despite your ‘position’…

  1. Take a moment to centre your thoughts into a space where you know what you think you know. This will enable you to ‘activate’.
  2. Then when you walk into the meeting, presentation, zoom call you’ll back yourself and remember, if you don’t, then no-one else is likely to.
  3. And most importantly, don’t surround yourself with sychophants – either personally or professionally. Take back your power to enable you to develop your expertise and ultimately grow your business in a way that best suits you and your needs.

The best consultants are always the ones who are willing to walk away from you.

So find someone who wants to help you more than they want your money.

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