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Recently we heard from a leader who said that one of our videos might just have saved her job. She explained that she had been in a meeting, presenting the final launch data for an innovative project she had been working on for nearly a year. The presentation was going well – her team had done their homework and it was clear this implementation could be a game-changer – when one of her senior executives remarked, “We’ve tried things like this before and I don’t think it’s going to work."
Now we’ve all been in meetings with naysayers – people who toss out negative comments but don’t offer helpful guidance, actual user research or an alternate solution. She knew she had to speak up, because she had seen this before—some people in the room would start nodding their heads in an effort to simply “agree with the boss.”
So she responded passionately with several key comparisons that showed how this project was remarkably different from those that had been tried previously and that it was already increasing customer satisfaction in select markets. She also provided real feedback from those customers – feedback that challenged the anecdotal “data” that so often derails a strategic vision.
When the meeting ended and she was walking out the door, the senior exec asked to meet with her that afternoon to continue the conversation. She was a little nervous. She wondered if she had been too bold. But she also knew that speaking her mind was part of her own core values. Still, she needed some advice – and fast. She says she’d been a Leadercast Now subscriber for several months, and made it a point to watch at least one video a day as sort of her “daily leadership inspiration.” So she pulled up Leadercast Now on her phone and browsed the topics; she clicked on one entitled, Speaking Truth to Power.
That seemed to shout out to her, she says. In the video, Brian Wells, founder of Flashlight Entertainment, says:
"I think probably the rarest trait that I see in leaders, whether it’s people that work for me or others that I’ve worked for, is the ability to speak truth to power. A lot of times it’s very difficult, when we’re in environments where somebody else is the base of power in that room—maybe they’re your boss, maybe it’s the CEO of the company, maybe it’s a customer that you have to close the deal with, whoever—when you’re in a position where the other person clearly has the balance the power in their favor. Are you going to just agree with them and say to them just the things you think they want to hear, or are you going to say to them what truth is?"
That’s it, she thought. This reminds me of why I speak my mind at work, even when I don’t agree with those around me.
When she met with the senior exec that afternoon, she asked if she could first play a two-minute video for him. She had selected another one from Brian Wells – Disconfirming Information. The video highlights how important it is for leaders to have people around them who aren’t afraid to bring them data that disagrees with their theories or assumptions.
In this video, Brian says: "I think one of the big challenges for us as leaders is actually success, because once you start to accumulate a little success, you have the 'luxury' of only having people bring you information that confirms what you already want to hear or what you already know. So you can find yourself only having people bring you confirming information when you’re looking at a project."
When the video ended, she said she could feel the shift in the senior exec’s demeanor. As they continued the conversation, they still didn’t agree on every aspect of the project, but they did agree, as Brian says in the video, “One of the most valuable things you can do as a leader is to look for disconfirming information.”
And they both knew she was very good at that.
How do you respond when someone brings you disconfirming information? Does your organizational culture support people who “speak truth to power?” What would it take for you to “agree to disagree” with your leadership team?