Recently I was working with an organization where the senior executives and managers wanted to take steps to create a much tighter and productive working relationship between the two levels of management. In essence, they wanted to create a culture of one leadership team versus two groups often distrustful of the other. The group was discussing how it could continue to deepen this connection when a manager offered a powerful observation.
“We need to be willing to have courageous conversations with each other,” said the manager, and for a moment, the room went silent as everyone took a breath to absorb the magnificent clarity in the manager’s statement. I could see heads starting to nod in agreement. I could feel the group take in the challenge this manager was issuing to everyone in the room.
The conversation that followed focused on the need to build more trust within the group through a collective willingness to bring up fundamental disagreements or problems that may be perceived as “off limits” or too sensitive for open discussion, particularly with the organization’s executive leadership.
These “off limits” topics stay off limits for a variety of factors. I hear many managers say that speaking up may put their jobs in jeopardy or give them a troublemaker label. Other managers and executives, for that matter, admit that they don’t think that speaking up will make a difference. The list goes on.
The truth is that trust within an organization’s management levels cannot be built or deepened unless leaders, executives and managers alike, are willing to create relationships of openness and honesty. And as the manager said, that takes a “willingness to have courageous conversations with each other.”
I believe the executives and managers in this story took a huge step forward in their connection and level of trust by making a commitment to have “courageous conversations.” No doubt they have more work to do, but they’ve taken a brave first step.