It’s a lot more fun to gather the team to share success stories or describe a powerful vision for a brighter future. Nobody fantasizes about delivering somber news, but many a leader has daydreamed about giving a JFK-like “Man On The Moon” speech.
The problem is that employees desperately want to hear about the challenges facing the company. And according to a new study, they are not currently getting that truth and insight from their leaders.
Leadership IQ’s new report, The State Of Leadership Development In 2020, surveyed 21,008 employees to assess leaders’ effectiveness. One of the findings from this study is that only 20% of employees say that their leader always openly shares the challenges they’re facing.
It’s an understatement to say that these are stressful times. And a key to managing in any tough situation is open, honest and transparent communication. Ironically, the more employees clearly understand the challenges they’re facing, the more apt they are to elevate their performance to meet those challenges. How can we expect people to give extra effort or summon extra resilience when they haven’t heard the truth about the challenges facing the organization?
When employees are kept in the dark, anxiety and rumination can run wild. Most people are aware of what’s happening in the world and the economy. And when they see their leaders adopting a don’t-worry-be-happy mindset, it rightly causes them to question their leader’s judgment and trustworthiness.
As you can see in the chart below, a majority of employees feel that their leader does not openly share the challenges we’re facing. Only 20% of employees say that their leader always openly shares the challenges we’re facing. By contrast, 21% of employees say that their leader never or rarely openly shares the challenges we’re facing.
While the overall numbers are concerning, we should all be distressed by the 21% of employees who say that their leader never or rarely openly shares the challenges we’re facing. Essentially, a fifth of the workforce feels like they’re being kept totally in the dark about what’s really happening to the company.
What if some of those people are your best employees? What would happen to your company if some of your best employees walked out the door because they felt like leaders weren’t being honest with them about what’s really happening to the organization? That’s a thought that should concern every executive.
This study was really about the state of leadership development, because “openly sharing challenges” is precisely the kind of skill that a robust leadership development program should be teaching to every manager and executive in the company. And it’s clear from the data that leadership development has not sufficiently emphasized the need for transparent communication to executives and managers.
This study also showed that there is a direct statistical link between leaders openly sharing challenges and employee engagement.
As you can see in the below regression line, the more a leader openly shares the challenges facing the organization, the more an employee will be inspired to give their best effort at work. If your organization truly wants top-notch employees, they’re going to require that leaders openly share the challenges facing the company.
This isn’t the first time that a link between these factors has been discovered. Another study, called The Risks Of Ignoring Employee Feedback, discovered that when an employee believes their company openly shares the challenges facing it, an employee is about 10 times more likely to recommend that company as a great employer.
Now, notwithstanding employees’ desires to hear the truth about the company’s challenges, this doesn’t mean that leaders should gather the team to declare that the sky is falling. There’s a big difference between being honest about our challenges and conveying hopelessness.
No rational person, let alone your high performers, wants to hear that the situation is hopeless and there’s no point in trying. Instead, they want the truth. They want to hear that there are some big hurdles we’ve got to overcome. They also want to hear that we’re going to fight through those challenges, we’re going to give our absolute best effort, and that we’re not going to give up without a fight.
Every leader wants to be trusted. But a precursor to trust is employees having confidence that the leader is really being honest about the situation and challenges we’re facing.
Of course, you can, and should, test this for yourself. First, ask your team to describe the challenges they think your organization is facing. If they’re missing some of the big ones, then you know right away that you’ve got some work to do.
Second, ask your team whether they think you, as their leader, openly share the challenges facing the organization. You can even use the rating scale used in the study. The key here is to get some feedback about whether your team thinks they’re getting enough information from you about what’s really going on.
Bad leaders pretend like everything is great and either bury their heads in the sand or deny reality. But really good leaders aren’t afraid to share the truth about what’s happening. While it may surprise lots of leaders, that’s what people want to hear.