Barden Insights: None one likes a back talker...or do they?

None one likes a back talker, do they?

And the chances are, even if you do disagree with your boss on an initiative, business idea or new project, you probably would rather keep quiet, as it’s an easier life, right? Even more so if you like your boss, and get on well. Why would you ruin that bond, it’ll serve you well, long term. Not to mention, make things awkward.
If you’re a leader, you might voice personal concerns behind closed doors, but in the main, you accept authority and decisions from above. And, there are issues of authority at stake; it’s not your place to argue, is it?

Yes it is.

In fact it’s critical. For a number of reasons:

#1 Innovation in business does not come from shrinking violets
Businesses do not move forward without change, they stagnate. And, as you know, to drive change, someone has to suggest an alternative view, method or practice. Innovation is the result of an individual or collective challenging the status quo, and this almost always comes from within the business – from the people at (or near) the coalface.

#2 Conflict, or more accurately, the ability to manage it professionally, is a critical leadership trait
Leadership is about being authentic, and whether you’re an individual contributor or a team manager, people will look to the way you act in their own professional development. By challenging ideas and business methods in the right way, using the right channels, you will gain respect not only from your peers, but also from your superiors. Including the boss or owner of the initiative you have challenged, even if they don’t admit it straight away!

#3 For your own sanity, and engagement, you need to voice your opinion.
I’m not for one second suggesting you roll into your Monday morning meeting barking like a Rottweiler, but there is certainly something to be said for the cathartic effect of debate. Staying true to your convictions, ethics or business philosophy is important to staying engaged with your role; if you become disconnected from the purpose of your work, you’ll face bigger problems down the road.

I appreciate it’s not as easy in practice. It’s a bit like when you receive bad customer feedback, or a negative appraisal. Defence is your gut reaction, not consideration that it could be a valid point. However, as we all know, once you move through this stage, actually, we’re all better for it.

Where the issues arise are in organisations that shelter senior leaders from employee challenge or negative feedback. Further complications arise in companies that don’t recognise the value of, or even discourage, those who challenge, even if in theory, they support it.

As Hal Gregersen validly states in “Make it OK for Employees to Challenge Your Ideas”, by not engaging with individuals who challenge, organisations miss the opportunity to “transform insights at the edge of the company to valuable actions at the core.”

There’s something important to take from this, whether you are an aspiring leader, or a leader of many. We all create company culture and, as a professional, or manager it’s vital that challenge is seen as a positive and necessary part of business improvement, as opposed to a negative and to-be discouraged weakness.

Don’t be another Kodak.

Read more: Gregersen, Hal, “Make it OK for Employees to Challenge Your Ideas” HBR

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