Leading an organization during change is challenging, you need to be open and inclusive to get creative ideas and solutions from those closest to the business at hand. While leading large transformation projects during my career in the IT Industry I would want to understand all the angles and barriers we would face in execution. Yet, it is not enough to encourage divergent opinions from various team members, you have to listen to them, even when what they are saying is difficult to hear or is offered in a negative way. In my experience, sometimes the cynics were the most valuable voices at a meeting. Over time I have learned to listen to the “squeaky wheel” because it often has a story to tell, a problem to be fixed, or an observation that no one else wants to bring up for fear of retribution. As a leader, if you can encourage productive dissention, you will have a deeper understanding of the issues and challenges within and around your organization.
As a leader managing change that affected many complex aspects of the operation, I needed to know the obstacles that would prevent a successful outcome. Many times I made time to meet with outspoken critics of the change. I would try to understand the cynic’s frame of reference. Was this person’s perspective limited or shared by the rest of the team? Was the comment valid? Who needed to be empowered to address the situation? I also found that when I took the time to meet one-on-one, I could listen, learn and eventually earn this person’s trust. Bringing a cynic over as an ally is a very powerful tactic. Former adversaries can help to bridge the gap with other dissenters. I would often call key team members just to ask how it was going. This would be an open dialogue so that I could keep a finger on the pulse of the widespread operation and pick up creative ideas to propel us forward. I did my best to be approachable. I often told my team the only feedback I feared was that which I did not get. Certain people kept me aware of what was going on. I made it a point to call on them to give me feedback on morale and what could be done to improve the organization. It was often harsh criticism, but I always thanked them for keeping me grounded.