Trina gives this some thought and counters with, “There’s got to be a way to get back on schedule. Let’s double-down and get it done. You’re a talented group; I have confidence you’ll find a way!” Trina then smiles encouragingly and says, “So, Michael, will your team hit that beta test mark?” “I’ll try,” replies Michael, very uncertain that the deadline will be met.
Trina thinks she’s providing encouragement and stretching her team. What’s she really doing is signaling to Michael that it’s not OK to push back. By offering an overly optimistic assessment of the situation Trina has backed Michael into a corner: saying “no” isn’t an option and saying “yes” violates Michael’s integrity. So he defaults to “I’ll try” — a non-answer which deflects responsibility. Lackluster compliance has taken the place of true commitment.
The only way a leader can discern the boundary between “all-out effort” and “this is total make-believe” is to create a culture where team members feel empowered to push back on their leaders’ demands.
According to the website Silence Fails, failure of leadership to see the reality of a situation is an all-too-common phenomenon. The authors of the site conducted research that reveals “fact-free planning” by project sponsors is a major factor that leads to a project failure rate of 85%.
Reality-avoidance is the dark side to the pursuit of excellence. It’s ironic: when leaders drive for results at all costs, making it difficult for their people to point out unrealistic objectives, they actually get further away from achieving their objectives. There is a fine line between challenging a team to achieve beyond all expectations and living in a fantasy world. The only way a leader can discern the boundary between “all-out effort” and “this is total make-believe” is to create a culture where team members feel empowered to push back on their leaders’ demands.
As a leader, how easy is it for your team to say “no”? Here are five ways you can create the space for people to push back:
“You can do it!” isn’t motivating and it’s not productive. Show your team that you live in the Land of Reality, not the Land of the Overly Optimistic, by encouraging a culture that’s that say it’s OK to speak up.
Jennifer V. Miller helps leaders leverage their influence in an ethical way. She is co-author of the Lead Change book “The Character-Based Leader,” available this summer. Visit her blog, The People Equation, for tips on increasing your IQ — Influence Quotient — and connect with her on Twitter @JenniferVMiller.