Reality and truth and hard for leaders to come by—especially if they think they are the repository of all truth. Leaders can easily get swept up in the “truth” perpetuated by the faithful that surround them.
Like in Han Christian Anderson’s story, naked kings parade before followers too insecure and fearful to tell them they have no clothes on. These naked kings begin to believe that the world is a fixed landscape that they only truly understand.
Nigel Nicholson believes a way out is Management By Wandering Around. He writes in The “I” of Leadership, that “leaders need ways of getting under the wire; to penetrate the defenses and illusions that thickly sprout around all the interstices of power in organizations.”
Napoleon sleeping, wrapped in a blanket on the battlefield alongside his men; Gates inviting emails from the ranks of his global Microsoft empire; company patriarch Raymond Ackerman continually touring the stores of his South African Pick-n-Pay grocery chain; and numerous hands-on business leaders the world over walking the job in an unscheduled, intimate manner, chatting to their people.
Gaining insight means:
Getting out and talking to people you don’t normally rely on for information. For better or worse, Nicholson explains that people tell their leaders what they want to hear in order to be thought of well, to keep them confident in their own beliefs and out of the fear to remain on the winning side. Unfortunately, while this keeps the leader comfortable and warm, it also makes them delusional. The leader must break organizational designs that conspire to “separate leaders from their people and the truths they have to tell.” Gaining insight means cultivating qualityfeedback.
Of course, all of this makes the issue of humility that much more difficult. Without humility we can’t learn and become stuck in a cycle of repeating the same thinking and patterns of behavior we always have—often to our own detriment.
Nicholson writes, “the best bosses teach their people that they really do love the truth and are not afraid of it, even when it may reflect badly on them, but many doubletalk, like the remark of the legendary movie mogul, Sam Goldwyn, who reputedly said:”
I don’t want yes men around me. I want people to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.