Most managers will , at some time, tell their subordinates to “please tell me what you think”. Such phrases go with a so-called open door policy and are intended to convey your openness to hearing contrary points of view and critical assessments of your decisions and actions taken or under consideration. The rub is, do your subordinates believe you and consequently will take you seriously?
As subordinates we all spend quite a lot of time trying to “figure out the boss“. We assess her or his personality, strengths, weaknesses, quirks, hot buttons, good and bad days, tolerance for mistakes, sense of humor, thickness of skin when challenged, and openness to contrary points of view. Considering all of this, we then calibrate how to approach our boss especially when we suspect we may get an emotional or angry response.
So managers, given how much time your subordinates spend attempting to figure you out, how can you expedite the process, especially with regard to encouraging them to tell you what they think, good or bad? It is really quite simple — although not always easy to do — openly, and publicly when necessary, admit you are wrong when you believe you are and defacto change something you have done or intend to do when necessary.
I am certain most of you have heard the old proverb “nothing succeeds like success”; the notion that achieving success breeds more success. Well in management terms, nothing convinces others of you openness to criticism and willingness to change, than your clear demonstrations of openness to criticism and willingness to change. In this sense we, as subordinates, are all from Missouri: “show me”! So, when you tell yourself and others I will not do that again, don’t. Trust me on this, without behavioral demonstrations, your words will remain just words for most of your subordinates, especially when your actions give lie to what you say.
Being human of course, responding positively to criticism can be very hard. Who likes the negative emotions associated with being wrong? Who enjoys the embarrassment of being caught out in doing something stupid, inappropriate, ill-considered, ill-timed, counter-productive, and sometimes even harmful? Who enjoys that after-feeling of not having lived up to your own standard for good management? But all of this comes with the job as does the responsibility to fix mistakes, alter course when necessary, and acknowledge being wrong when appropriate. This is what all the best managers know and do. They understand the incredible power of demonstrating the integrity of their words in behavior to help them manage their operation.
And your reward?
First, you end up being infinitely smarter about what is going on in your organization. Subordinates are encouraged to communicate with you, to be open, and to share their unique perspectives even when they conflict with yours. They are encouraged — without fear of retribution or rejection — to challenge your thinking and to tell you things you need to know. “Yes” men and women keep their bosses in the dark; a dangerous place to be when there is so much going on in your organization each day that you haven’t the time or energy to keep up with. Demonstrating your desire to hear the good, the bad and the ugly, can shed much-needed light on the situations you need to address and the decisions you will need to make.
Second, you are a role model for all your subordinates and the best managers understand that subordinates are most likely to do as you do, not as you say. If you want your work team to openly communicate with each other, listen to and respond appropriately to criticism, and change their behavior when necessary, nothing sets a more powerful example than your taking the lead.
In the end, all managers are defined by their behavior not by their words, no matter how elegant and well delivered they may be. Keep reminding yourself of this when it comes to receiving and responding to the criticism of others.