Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Promote Him

Most leaders live in a bubble, surrounded by an echo chamber of yes men and women. Likewise, few team members ever stick their neck out to say what is unsaid and speak truth to power. Charm School for Mavericks teaches leaders to not only listen to the unpopular viewpoint, but to value it.

Why don’t most team members speak out, speak their minds, or say the unsaid? Because experience tells them that they will be shot down, dismissed, or worse, isolated. But what if managers and executives learned to not only listen to the person speaking truth to power, but to value and appreciate the spirit and courage of those members of the team? Think about how much value it is to have honest feedback and out of the box thinkers on your team. What could you accomplish if every member of your team had the “permission to speak freely?”

That can only happen if leaders cultivate a culture of openness. Open dialogue, open critique, open communication.

How does a leader cultivate openness? By treating outlier opinions as valuable and worthy of consideration. A leader who openly solicits and shows respect for outlier opinions and ideas is cultivating the courage of every member of the team to speak up and say what is on their mind.

Every team member watches how other team members are treated. They watch the leader for receptivity, fairness and openness. They will learn very quickly not to speak out if they see another team member shot down or dismissed. Or disrespected. Courage is in short supply in our corporate cultures because it has not been cultivated and rewarded. And why should it take courage to speak your mind, anyway? Why do leaders expect “out of the box” thinking, yet jump on team members who voice an unpopular opinion? How can risk taking, which is the birthplace of creativity, be encouraged if everyone is tip toeing around? It can’t. Period.

During Charm School for Mavericks executive coaching, we teach Mavericks to actively ask for outlier opinions and ideas and reward those who step up to that calling, even if the ideas don’t ultimately work, or are scrapped. One weird idea can lead to an open dialogue that is one of the stepping stones to true innovation.

What can a leader do to encourage and cultivate out of the box thinking? Reward it. Messengers of unpopular news, information or ideas are often shot down, but in truth, they should be rewarded. They are serving to generate awareness of other perspectives on a challenge. This is the birthplace of creative problem solving, which exactly what most challenges call for. Therefore, don’t shoot the messenger. Cultivate, reward and promote him.

L. Kay Wilson is an executive coach and founder of the Maverick Leadership Institute. Her signature process, Charm School for Mavericks, has helped transform many leaders in a broad range of industries. Kay hails from Connecticut and spends half her time in the DC metro area.