Too often, leaders forget that simple fact. They try to create an image that will impress their employees, their colleagues, their customers, and their vendors. But if that image doesn’t jive with reality, they aren’t fooling anyone. Because the fact is, people know.
For example, take the team where one member is not performing well. Instead of addressing it, senior management does nothing: no constructive feedback is given to the individual, no accountability is put in place, and no change is required. The message communicated is that everything is okay and the team is doing great.
But, people know. They know when one member of the team isn’t pulling their weight – and they resent it. It’s hurting the team and hurting the business. So when senior management overlooks the issue, it causes incredible frustration among the team members who are working their hardest.
Or consider this scenario: senior management proclaims the importance of work/life balance. The messages are that the company cares and wants employees to have this balance so they can be their best at work and at home. But people know it’s a lie. They know that long hours are demanded, that time off is granted only grudgingly, and that being constantly on call is a requirement. So, when senior management says that work/life balance is a core value of the company, the words are met with cynicism. People aren’t stupid. People know.
Here’s the takeaway: stop spending energy trying to sell a story that people know is false. Instead, be authentic and take action. If your team or organization has a problem, identify it and deal with it. If a customer is dissatisfied and your company is at fault, tell it like it is and make a plan to remediate the issue. If you have a mismatch between core values spoken and core values acted, acknowledge it and work to change it.
Failure to either admit to a problem or address a problem ultimately hurts your effectiveness and credibility as a leader. It undercuts your relationship with your employees, peers, customers, and vendors. It creates an environment of distrust, cynicism, and frustration. Fortunately, people are much more willing to hear the truth than you might realize. They are also much more willing to pitch in and fix a problem than you might think. Because, when all is said and done, you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know.
Here’s the best news: what we see, time and again, is that leaders who are authentic and active about addressing problems are almost shockingly effective. Leaders who do not hesitate to tell it like it is and take the hard steps to fix issues have the complete trust and commitment of the people they lead. Their employees know they can count on the leader and, as a result, they are motivated to do their very best in return. After all, when a leader is truly great, people know!
Leadership Lesson: The troops are waiting for senior leaders to acknowledge and address the problems that the troops already know are there.