As a leader, can you spot those around you who are just telling you want you want to hear? Those who may be “spinning” you one line, but causing havoc and conflict with other team members or departments around you?
Many of us will have experienced seeing someone manage up very well to their boss, telling them that issues have been resolved, their decisions are correct, that goals are on time, all is well etc. But all along they are masking the true extent of what is going on.
And then you wonder how the boss doesn’t “see through it”. When I asked a senior executive this once, he said “but he’s so easy to manage”! And when I asked someone who was managing up in this way, his answer was that he “didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news and risk his job” and “stands a much better chance of promotion this way”.
Could it be that as a leader, there are people around you who are much easier to manage? They don’t challenge your decisions, they don’t need “influencing” to get something done? Although there will always be some people who you connect easier with than others, it’s important to bear in mind that there could be the possibility that this is masking information that is vital to your success and that of your underlying team.
If you don’t know all the facts, how can you really make an informed judgement or decision? And poor management of this can result in projects failing, employees leaving, significant errors made, all whilst leaving you unsure why.
There are a couple of things that could be at play here, and one is a psychological bias know as confirmation bias. We all have unconscious biases: by using our beliefs, experience and knowledge to understand patterns we are then able to make quicker decisions in the future without repeatedly having to review all the information. However, these can cause the tendency to make decisions or take action in an unknowingly irrational way, leading to missed opportunities and poor decision making.
Confirmation bias is where you are looking for information/statistics that supports your existing beliefs, rejecting data that goes against what you believe, and not factoring in all of the relevant information. If someone is reporting information to you in a way that recognises your biases, you could easily skim over or ignore other data that is just as important for you to know.
- Look for ways to challenge what you think you see or are being told.
- Seek out information from a range of sources, and consider multiple perspectives.
- Discuss your thoughts with a diverse group of people, and listen to dissenting views.
- Seek out people and information that challenge your opinions.
- Look for instances where you should be asking more questions.
- Attend skip level meetings, where you get to speak to your direct report’s team members.
Additionally, the culture that you are encouraging as a leader could be one where employees are concerned about admitting mistakes, or may take credit when it isn’t due in order to get in your good books. In this situation:
- Develop self-awareness to understand your attitudes, behaviours and unconscious biases, and how to build trust with your team.
- Develop your leadership skills for understanding and appreciating different personality types.
- Ensure that you listen, communicate and give appropriate feedback and appreciation
- Celebrate success and help everyone learn from mistakes.
- Explain your expectations with regard to an open dialogue and the culture you want to encourage.
It’s necessary for some kind of disciplinary procedures to be in place for those who are found to be untruthful or deliberate in their manipulation of data. There are people who can be dishonest and have no remorse about how their actions could harm others. But it’s also important to investigate the underlying factors that could be encouraging this type of behaviour.
What experiences have you had from those managing up very well?