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How to Develop Leaders

How to Speak Up Without Getting Slapped Down

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Todd Holzman:  People’s relationship with their managers has a huge effect on the meaning and the quality of their work experiences. In fact, we often say, “People don’t leave companies, they leave their managers.” But at the same time, if you could be more open and honest about things you’re seeing, with humility, then perhaps your ability to learn actually accelerates. Actually, I don’t think perhaps, I think it definitely does.

Eric West: Yeah, and it’s interesting because the first thing or one of the first things I’m thinking about is being a good corporate citizen and this fear of saying, “Well, if I say this, will I all of a sudden be seen or labeled as not a good corporate citizen and raising concerns, being a problem?” These sorts of things that a lot of people are quite fearful of. And I think when we’re in a discussion about leadership, how do you go from distinguishing between your own internal definitions of what being a good corporate citizen means, and also using yourself as an instrument or some kind of vehicle to have your own voice and feel like you should be free to impact the work that you’re doing?

Todd Holzman: Well, I mean, first of all, it’s important to be clear on what constraints you’re imposing on yourself versus actually exists within the system.

Eric West:  Yeah.

Todd Holzman: And just because you are feeling like you shouldn’t talk about this, doesn’t mean you actually should. But what I worry about is when people make these decisions kind of unilaterally without talking to other people about it. So it’s like, okay, you’re deciding again for me that this is not being a good corporate citizen. You might actually name the dilemma. You might actually say, “Listen, I know I’m new here and I definitely feel kind of a pull to be a good corporate citizen, but I’ve also got some concerns about things that I’m seeing, which might just be a reflection of my naivete. So if I were to talk to you about them, would you feel like I wasn’t being a good corporate citizen?” And I think your manager would probably say, “Well, actually, if you weren’t, I would see you as not being a good corporate citizen.”

Eric West: Right.

Todd Holzman: Right? But again, it depends upon how you handle it. And this is why, again, it comes down to… Why arduous thoughts about action science and the art and science of intervention and how can we make all of this actionable for people is so important, because it’s great in theory, but… Because you could easily botch that conversation. You could just say, “Let me tell you all the million ways I’m making this organization wrong for why it does what it does, and by the way, for why you’re doing what it does.” I don’t think that would be generally very well received unless somebody’s paying you to be a critic. But if you can offer it with a kind of courageous humility, then often it will be very well received and your experience of the culture will be very different.

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