Don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the truth

I was attending a senior leadership team meeting of one of the key functions of a large global technology company. The function’s leader, in his attempt to improve the team’s alignment with, and in support of the business, leader undertook a significant organization structure change, in which he created new departments and made changes to existing ones.

The leaders were discussing the reorganization that had been announced and purpose of the conversation was to review the list of team members who were going to move from one team to another as part of the change. Needless to say, for many of the leaders, this was not an easy or comfortable conversation. Those who were losing team members felt somewhat upset and those receiving people felt somewhat guilty.

The function head was eager to drive the transition as fast as possible, but in his haste, he left some of his leaders behind. By that I mean, that quite a few of his leaders didn’t fully understand and buy into his change. The leaders who were not on board still moved forward with his plan but they dragged their feet in every decision and as a result, deadlines were not met and overall things moved slower than the function head had wanted.

The function head was frustrated and so were his leaders. In the meeting, he reiterated his plan and then he asked his leaders: “Do you get it and does all this make sense?” It was clear that what he really meant was: “What do I need to do to get you on board to start owning and driving the change?!

The question was a legitimate one, but even though the function head kept his cool everyone could sense the frustration behind his words.

There was an awkward silence at first, which was broken by one of the leaders who usually spoke up first reinforcing to the function head in a politically correct way, that everyone was on board. The meeting went on with the agenda.

It was painfully obvious to me – and I believe to everyone else in the meeting – that not everyone got it, not everyone agreed and not everyone felt it made sense. But, people didn’t say a word.

My question to you is:

When is the last time you heard a team member respond to the question from his or her boss “Do you get it and does it make sense?” with:

“No I don’t get it and no it doesn’t make sense. In fact, it is a bad and unnecessary idea!”

I have seen team members feel and think this way, but rarely to never have I seen them say it out loud.


Because justified or not, they fear retribution. Telling your boss that he/she is wrong; that they don’t get it and that their idea is dumb or unnecessary, is not something most people do at any level of any organization.

In most teams, there isn’t a safe enough space to have these types of authentic and courageous conversations. So, when the boss asks a bold and direct question, even if he or she means well, they will most likely always get the politically correct, diplomatic and cautious answer. People will say the right things, but they will most likely continue to find ways to pretend like they are on board while continuing to drag their feet and pay lip service to the change.

Unfortunately, I see too many leaders and managers who don’t seem to get this. As a result, they ask the same types of naïve blunt questions, they get the same politically correct answers and they leave these interactions feeling good about the outcome, even though in reality nothing really changed.

So, if you want something else to occur, either address the unsafe space and change it, or simply don’t ask if you don’t want to hear the truth.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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