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Misdiagnose. Often, leaders are causing the fear but denying

it. “Who me? I don’t do a thing to make people feel uncomfort­

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able.” They haven’t Learned to Look. They’re unaware of their

Style Under Stress. Despite this disclaimer, the way they carry

themselves, their habit of speaking in absolutes, their subtle use

of authority-something out there-is creating fear and eventual

deference.

Then there’s the other misdiagnosis: leaders who face “head­

bobbing kiss-ups” often think they’re doing something wrong

when, in fact, they’re living with ghosts of previous leaders. They

do their best to be open and supportive and to involve people,

 

 

YEAH, BUT 1 99

but despite their genuine efforts, people still keep their distance.

Often, people treat their leaders like celebrities or dictators,

regardless of the fact that they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

Before you do anything, you need to find out if you’re the

cause, if you’re living with ghosts of bosses past, or both.

Command it away. Many leaders seek the simple path. They

tell people to stop deferring.

“It seems to me that you’re agreeing with me because I’m

the boss and not because what I’m saying makes sense.”

“Absolutely!”

“I’d prefer that you stop deferring to me and simply listen

to the idea.”

“Okay. whatever you say, Boss ! ”

With ingrained deference you face a catch-22. If you don’t say

something, it’ll probably continue. If you do say something, you

may be inadvertently encouraging it to continue.

The Solution

Work on me first. Discover your part in the problem. Don’t ask

your direct reports. If they’re already deferring to you, they’ll

whitewash the problem. Consult with a peer who watches you in

action. Ask for honest feedback. Are you doing things that cause

people to defer to you? If so, what? Explore your peer’s path by

having him or her point out your specific behaviors. Jointly devel­

op a plan of attack, work on it, and seek continued feedback.

If the problem stems from ghosts (the actions of previous

leaders), go public. Describe the problem in a group or team

meeting and then ask for advice. Don’t try to command it away.

You can’t. Reward risk takers. Encourage testing. When people

do express an opinion contrary to yours, thank them for their

honesty. Play devi l ‘s advocate. If you can’t get others to disagree,

 

 

200 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS

then disagree with yourself. Let people know that all ideas are

open to question. If you need to, leave the room. Give people

some breathing space.

FAILED TRUST

n YEA H, BUT. ..

I DON’T KNOW WHAT to do. I’m not sure I can trust this

person. He missed an important deadline. Now I wonder

if I should trust him again. ”

The Danger Point

People often assume that trust is something you have or don’t

have. Either you trust someone or you don’t. That puts too much

pressure on trust. “What do you mean I can’t stay out past mid­

night? Don’t you trust me?” your teenage son inquires.

Trust doesn’t have to be universally offered. In truth, it’s usu­

ally offered in degrees and is very topic specific. It also comes in

two flavors-motive and ability. For example, you can trust me

to administer CPR if needed; I’m motivated. But you can’t trust

me to do a good job; I know nothing about it.

The Solution

Deal with trust around the issue, not around the person.

When it comes to regaining trust in others, don’t set the bar

too high. Just try to trust them in the moment, not across all

issues. You don’t have to trust them in everything. To make it

safe for yourself in the moment, bring up your concerns.

Tentatively STATE what you see happening. “I get the sense that

you’re only sharing the good side of your plan. I need to hear the

possible risks before I’m comfortable. Is that okay?” If they play

games, call them on it.

 

 

YEAH. BUT 201

Also, don’t use your mistrust as a club to punish people. If

they’ve earned your mistrust in one area, don’t let it bleed over

into your overall perception of their character. If you tell yourself

a Villain Story that exaggerates others’ untrustworthiness, you’ll

act in ways that help them justify themselves in being even less

worthy of your trust. You’ll start up a self-defeating cycle and get

more of what you don ‘t want.

WON’T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING SERIOUS

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