I was working with a senior leadership team of a successful technology company that was dealing with great change as a result of changes in their market and the way their customers wanted to partner with them to purchase and consume their offerings.
The stakes were high and the senior leaders had to make some big and bold decisions about how they will organize their company differently to accommodate this change.
The good news was that the company had a strong portfolio of offerings that was relevant and desired by their customers. The bad news is that this organization and leadership team had a long history of working in a particularly siloed way. While teams worked well together, each business and function had a lot of autonomy to do things the way they wanted, and overall the organization was quite siloed.
The future opportunities and challenges required a significant internal change both in mindset and structure and the leaders were in a meeting discussing this.
After presenting and summarizing the market changes that lead to the change, the leader asked people to state their views about how the organization should restructure its business and functions.
Through my one-on-one conversations prior to the meeting, I knew how individual leaders felt about the required change, including which groups should grow, which should shrink and which should be closed altogether in order to enable new groups to be formed.
However, in a typical diplomatic and politically correct fashion none of the leaders fully expressed their views. It wasn‘t that no one said anything of substance. It was more that most of the leaders danced around the topic a bit speaking in a conceptual and hypothetical manner instead of jumping straight to the heart of the matter with concrete ideas and proposals.
In fact, the one leaders who had a reputation for being blunt and disruptive did what he always does – he expresses a blunt view. However, because his colleagues already related to him as the “blunt” “disruptor” “controversial” and even “troublemaker”, his comments didn’t make the impact in terms of encouraging others to speak more courageously or actually shaping the direction and decisions.
I wasn’t surprised because unfortunately, I see this dynamic frequently in teams of all levels. People tend to water down their ideas, commitments, feedback and/or criticism when they talk to colleagues, boss or even subordinates.
Why does this happen?
I believe the main reason is that people don’t own and don’t take responsibility for their power to influence, shape the future, drive directions and make a difference.
If you don’t own your personal power, you are likely to hesitate to express your big ideas, negative feedback or bold requests of others. You may speak freely in private, however, you will hold back in public.
Some people may push back and say something like: “It’s not that I don’t own what I have to say, I just don’t trust my teammates or our team environment to hear what I have to say in the right way…” Well, if you don’t trust your team or team environment and you do own your power to make a difference start with an honest conversation about the trust. It all boils down to the same thing.
This may seem a bit simplistic, however, if you net it out I find that it all boils down to courage. Having the courage to look inward and be clear about who you are, where you stand and what you want to drive, achieve and say, even if it may be scary or uncomfortable for you or the people receiving.
Many times, people talk before they are clear about what they want to say, so they tend to speak in circles or stumble on words. This is not because they are not smart, they don’t command the language or they are lazy. It stems from the same space of lack of ownership – they haven’t taken the time to get clear about, and own their stand and position. Most of the time it doesn’t take a lot of time to make a choice and take a stand. It could, however, take a lot of courage…
So, next time you find yourself uncertain or stuck in a conversation ask yourself:
- “Am I clear about my stance on this topic or conversation?”
- “Am I clear about what I want to say?” You can be clear about what you want to say but not yet sure about how you will say it… no issue there as long as you don’t use the latter as an excuse to sell out on the former.
- “Am I willing to own what I have to say with no compromise or excuses?” OR, “Am I willing to own my power and ability to make a difference?!”
This will help you move forward.