The higher you go in your organization the greater the risk that you will lose touch with your people. That risk has less to do with you as a leader than it has to do with with your followers.
Positions at or near the top of an organization come with power or at least the perception of power. The people at lower levels of an organization believe that the people “at the top” have substantial control over their jobs and livelihoods. That belief drives a respect for those people at the top. I say respect but the truth is that far too often it’s not really respect, it’s fear and intimidation.
To be clear, that fear is not necessarily driven by anything the leader says or does, it is driven by the insecurities of the people they lead.
The best leaders are aware of those common insecurities and the behaviors they drive. One of the most common behaviors is a lack of candor. Most people are careful with the information they share with leaders at high levels of an organization. They have no interest in even appearing to “rock the boat.”
So they withhold information that their leaders need to lead effectively. That can easily create a reality gap for the leader.
You may think you’ve done nothing to cause your people to shield you from the truth and you may be correct. But it’s not just you they shield from the truth, it’s your position. It’s kinda like having a meeting and telling people to forget you’re the boss…they can’t and won’t forget, they will always be leery about sharing real world information.
In the worst cases they will either tell you only what they think you want to hear or they will outright lie.
Here’s what makes this challenge so difficult to overcome: most leaders do not believe that a reality gap exists. They think they are “plugged in” to the pulse of their organization and certainly to some extent they are. The question is to what extent. A very large percentage of leaders are far less connected than they think.
That’s why every leader, let me repeat, every leader needs at least one truth teller. Their truth teller is part coach, part confidant, and secure enough to risk the consequences of not withholding the information their leader needs.
If you’re at or near the top of your organization then you need access to accurate, timely information. To ensure you have it you must find the people within your organization who have the confidence to tell you what’s what.
Search out those people or that person and stay connected to them; let them be a second set of eyes and ears for you. Use them to verify the reality that you think you know. As a leader you can never have too much information. More and better information means a smaller reality gap and when it comes to gaps small is definitely big!