A chief creates or destroys a corporate culture within 10 seconds

Imagine this: you’re in a monthly review with the whole department in a townhall setting. You, as chief, stand in front of a group of fifty people listening to what you have to say. You’ve just started the meeting when one of your employees steps forward:

‘Boss, we are working on this project for six months now and the colleagues and I, we don’t see any progress. What’s going on, what are the priorities here? Can you give us an explanation for this please?’

How do you react? The first 10 seconds are crucial, they set the corporate culture. It is up to you: do you want to have an open and transparent culture, than your split second non-verbal and verbal reaction is essential.

Let’s take a dive into this dialogue between you and your coworkers, between their criticism and your initial reaction. How do you welcome and appreciate their criticism, and respond calmly in such a way that encourages exchange of information?

The next reaction is a typical reaction of many leaders I have coached over the years:

‘Yes, of course, and thank you for asking. I understand your concern, but when you look at where we came from, it could have been worse. The obstacles we had to overcome at the beginning of this project resulted in an impactful delay, which set us back by at least two months’.

This slightly defensive reaction is a natural reflex, born out of anxiety, and in most cases it has a negative impact on the attenders. To make matters worse, leaders inadvertently set an example that their employees unconsciously mimic. During these crucial seconds, in which the leader receives criticism, he starts off a culture of excuses, statements, and explanations for why things didn’t work.

So, how do you turn this around and start a culture in which criticism is simply seen as a way of exchanging information? I give you three steps:

1) This leader’s ‘yes, but’- reaction is killing in receiving criticism. People expect their leader to react in a respectful way with an empathic answer. They want to hear understanding in your voice and words. As a leader you show them resilience by receiving criticism with an open mind on one hand and disagreeing – if necessary- with the content on the other.

2) If team members have the guts and mental resilience to open up to their leader, and the boss listens and is really interested in the topic and in its solutions, many members expect their boss to follow up on their words. Leaders have to be crystal clear in setting expectations what to expect and when concerning their follow-up.

3) At the end of the session the leader needs to show an open mind when he summarises the essence of the criticism and the tangible actions, which will be taken as a result of their criticism.

Now, imagine exactly the same situation as described earlier, and let’s examine more closely how the leader of this firm sets an example for his employees.

‘Boss, we are working for six months now on this project and the colleagues and I don’t see any progress. We don’t understand what’s going on and what the priorities are. Can you explain this please?’

‘Yes, of course. First of all I would like to thank you for asking. It’s important for me to know what’s going on and you obviously represent the ongoing thoughts. Let’s look at the start of this project and where it went wrong. I must say I’ve made some mistakes at the beginning of the process by making wrong assumptions about the planning. This is something I’ve learned and will take into account for next process, starting within two months. I extend an invitation to all of you to step forward during critical moments at the outset of the process, especially when there’s a risk of failure. Given the wealth of experience in this group, I’m confident that if we all keep our eyes open on every detail we learn to anticipate better.’

So, in short, leaders:

1) Have an open mind on personal criticism. Show vulnerability, step over your performance fear and keep your nerves together towards every kind of criticism. In the end it improves the result of the process you’re in.

2) Observe and reinforce with your team the human potential, capabilities, and collective experiences that contribute to the team. By openly sharing these positive insights, leaders demonstrate trust in their team members.

3) Be complimentary toward the one who has the guts to speak their mind.

Look around, chief. The culture of your firm or department is a reflection of yourself, and with these first 10 seconds of reacting you make all the difference.

#performancefear #oneminutecoaching #mentalresilience

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