the ceo magazine, leadership
Gershon Mader, President of Quantum Performance Inc.

I’m sure you’ve seen this as many times as I have.  People sit around a meeting table, nodding agreement as their leaders explain the plan for a critical change initiative.  Once the meeting is over, they push back their chairs and drift towards their desks.  As they congregate at the water cooler, they open up to each other:  “That’ll never happen!”  “What a pile of crap!”  “I can hardly wait until the weekend.”

By the time the information trickles down to front-line staff from middle management, cynicism and quiet rebellion are rampant.  In this organization, people will definitely be going their own way rather than working together.

Meanwhile, their unsuspecting bosses leave the meeting imagining that they have done a wonderful job of explaining their strategy, and that everyone is on board.

Nothing will sink a strategy more effectively than a lack of employee commitment and alignment.  If employees are expressing scepticism about key company initiatives and its leadership in hallway conversations that is a sure sign that they are not on their leaders’ side, and are not aligned with the company’s strategy.

When leaders don’t create an environment that fosters blunt honesty people go underground to converse, rather than address the important things out in the open; they deflect blame for things that are not working well, or simply express anger or resignation.  When they have to, they pay lip service to the authorities, and say only what they believe to be safe.

As a result, far too many leaders simply have no idea what their people are thinking and saying. In fact, many mistake fear and compliance for commitment.

It takes courage – on both sides - to create an environment of blunt honesty.  Leaders must be willing to hear the unvarnished truth, and employees must be prepared to express it. 

But, a leader who learns to listen carefully and engage in meaningful and blunt dialogue with his or her people will find that the investment of time and effort is deeply worthwhile.  Over time, this dialogue will remove obstacles and open new doors.  And it will help to ensure that the team is genuinely aligned behind the strategy or plan.

In fact, even if the leader’s strategy is not optimal, if people feel they can make a difference and their leaders really want to hear what they have to say, they will go out of their way to make sure it succeeds.


About the Author

Gershon Mader is 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 and retail. He focuses strongly on having a fully aligned workforce with all employees on the same page working towards a common goal. He also includes case studies and success stories to relate to a broad range of organizations.

Mader co-authored the best-selling business book "The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through TOTAL Alignment and Engagement” (AMACOM, July 2009). The book offers leaders practical tools, proven methods and meaningful case studies garnered from a broad range of global companies, including Fortune 500 success stories. 

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