Originally published on Forbes.com on December 17, 2015 By Gretchen Fox
There’s a dangerous black hole in your organization, and if you are in the C-Suite you don’t even know it exists. Whether you realize it or not, you have a leadership blind spot.
This black hole usually exists either right below your nose or two rungs down and, day by day, it’s sucking the life right out of your business.
Before I can shed light on this hole you are missing, I need you to understand something very, very important: You are not going to be able to lean on your go-to staff right below you to help you solve this. Not yet. Not until you get an awareness of it yourself. If you don’t understand the issue first, you will remain locked in the blind spot. I’ll explain why momentarily.
Here’s the root of the problem: You don’t realize it, but your people: your employees, your partners, your vendors, your customers, etc. are WAY more disconnected than you believe. They have ISSUES with you and the way you are running the organization, they have issues with the company, with its products, service, and staff. And worse than the existence of this disconnection is the fact that there’s an entire secret, unwritten, silent agreement to never tell you the truth. This is your Achilles heel as a leader: Nobody that works for you is willing to tell you the exact and total truth, and a lot is being said that you need to hear.
As a consultant to CEOs, CMOs, and CDOs, I see this at every single organization.
I know you C-Suite folks well and I know you are reading this and thinking, ‘not my company’, but yes, your company. That’s why I’m writing this. You need to hear the truth from somebody and an outsider is the only one that can say it.
Let me give you a real-life example so maybe you can see it a bit better; it’s always easier to witness it happening to someone else. I could give you story after story, all day. You see, my digital and social strategy agency always starts our engagements with an all-hands company workshop where we do a Mission-Vision-Values-Identity update. In this session, we shore up the TRUTH between the CEO’s GOAL for the Mission, Vision, Values, and Identity with the REALITY of these areas. And there is always a shocking discrepancy.
You see, as the leader, you are likely clear on each of these areas and you think everyone is on the same page with you. But you are wrong, they are not. No matter how many materials you have up on your company site, Powerpoint decks you have shared in meetings, and signs you have posted on the wall, there’s a gap between what you think and what everyone below you thinks.
Let me give you an example. During one of these all-hands system reboots, we honed in on one key piece of the company’s values and asked about the internal value for the office environment. Many words were tossed out including “self-directed”, “fair”, and “hardworking”, and then the CEO exclaimed: “Fun!”
As facilitators, my business partner Kyra Reed and I stand at the front of the room. When the CEO exclaimed the word “Fun”, a cringe cascaded across the crowd of employees like a chain reaction. Yet, the cringes were executed ever so slightly as to not tip off the CEO himself.
Noticing this disconnect, we said the word out loud again: “Fun? Does everyone think this office is a fun place to work?” and we looked around, trying to give everyone an opportunity to speak their mind. And we were met with silence. Now, the CEO stepped into the silence and confidently said, “Yes! We have a really fun office environment!” and looked around to his leadership staff and other employees for their verification that this is in fact, true. And you know what they did, don’t you?
They all started nodding their heads that yes!, he is correct. They perked up in their seats, they mimicked his enthusiasm. They understood that their livelihood was on the line, and nobody was going to risk being the dissident to the CEOs strongly held beliefs.
This is the Leadership Bubble, the blind spot, the black hole that exists in every organization. This CEO was just lied to. And it happens all day, every day.
Now, as consultants, if we see this and just skip over it and say,”OK, great! The company is a fun place to work” and write it on the whiteboard as if it were fact, we have failed our client in one flash of a moment. And if we then left the meeting on that note, nobody would bring up that awkward moment of keen group awareness of a very specific and real dysfunction that is happening in the office every single day: In fact, it’s not a fun place to work. It’s a stressful place to work. There are a lot of perks of working at that company but fun is not one of them.
It could be, if it’s important to the CEO to have a fun office but it’s not now and yet, he has no idea.
In this moment, it is our job to say, “Okay, it looks like there’s an intention to have a fun office but perhaps the word fun has different meanings to different people.” You see what we did there? We opened the door for dealing with the problem without being accusatory. It is in this moment, we have the opportunity to fix this dysfunction once and for all.
I won’t give you the step-by-step system we use to bridge the gap between the goals of the company and the reality, that’s our secret sauce, but I will tell you that there are over 10 different points we pressure test to identify the weaknesses and silent sentiments that sabotage an organization.
The key thing you need to know now is that while your organization limps along with this internal dysfunction behind your back, everyone knows but you. And when I say “everyone”, that includes even the general public.
Because of the prevalence of digital and social media, the world talks — and listens. And every single disconnect that is happening creates perceivable friction that chips away at your credibility, your authority, and ultimately subverts your success.
The good news is that all the issues are quickly findable when you have the right process, one we stumbled upon in our need to help companies be authentic in their social presence online. Now, we realize this isn’t just social media, this is transformational therapy for businesses. And just like they say about people, each business is as sick as its secrets. The question is, how many secrets are getting in your way of ultimate business success? Good question, right?
Gretchen Fox is the cofounder of [made to order], a full-service social media agency that prepares businesses for success in the Digital Age.
I write about social and emerging media & technology.
I am cofounder at [made to order], a full-service social media agency that brings brands to life online and drives digital sales. I’ve spent the past 15 years in the Entertainment, Sports and Technology verticals — and often, the confluence of the three. Prior to launching [mto], I was Vice President of Social Media at Live Nation Entertainment where I built an in-house social agency to service the biggest performing artists in the world and lead the training of over one hundred field marketers across North America. Prior to that, I worked in Silicon Valley tech, where I launched one of the first Social TV technologies in history creating innovative digital experiences for AELTC’s Wimbledon, NBC’s Winter Olympics, IndyCar Race Control properties and more.
Originally published on Forbes.com on December 17, 2015 By Gretchen Fox