Leadership is about making the call.
Or, at least that’s what we seem to think.
We seem to think leadership is about making the complex decision. As captain of the ship, you survey the seas — what your board is telling you, what your customers are telling you, what the market is telling you, what your employees are telling you — and steer the ship in a certain direction.
Sure, that’s part of leadership.
But the other part is explaining to your crew why you’re headed in that direction in the first place. Making the call is only half the battle — the other half is communicating the call.
We don’t always do this as leaders.
We forget to pull back the curtain and explain why we’re staying the course. We forget to share why we’re not acting on some feedback received. We forget to say how a certain decision came to be.
Leadership is making the call… but explaining the call, too.
Explaining why you’re not doing something — or what I like to call “closing the loop” — is one of the most effective ways to cultivate an open, honest work environment.
You can pose all the questions you want in surveys, have one-on-ones with each of your employees, gather their input at an all-hands meeting… But it’s all moot if you don’t close the loop and say what you’re doing or not doing with it.
If you receive a piece of feedback that isn’t practical or doesn’t align with the company’s direction, tell your employees that. Expose your decision-making process. If you don’t, employees will wonder, “What ever happened to that idea I suggested?” They’ll assume that you’re not open to receiving new ideas, and they’ll hesitate to bring up feedback the next time around.
I remember speaking with a CEO earlier this year, and she told me how she’d hired an external consultant who conducted an culture survey with her team. However, she didn’t tell her employees what she was going to do with the responses, or how it was going to guide any of their leadership team’s decisions. She had the survey deployed. And then, silence on her end as the CEO.
The result wasn’t good. Employees saw weeks go by, and wondered what happened to the survey responses. They felt left in the dark, and confused about what was going on. The CEO eventually heard through the grapevine from an employee that some folks were worried that they were gearing up to fire a bunch of people — which wasn’t true at all!
She had just been so focused on trying to digest the survey results as the CEO and create a plan of action, she’d forgotten to tell her team that’s what she was doing.
Instead, her employees had assumed something completely different when they didn’t hear from her about it.
Not closing the loop was costly for this CEO. She had to do some damage control, and rebuild trust with her team. She had to state clearly: “Here’s how the leadership team is processing the information, here’s how we want to use it, and we’ll let the team know on X date when we move forward.”
Hindsight being 20/20, this CEO wishes she would have better explained her call, instead of just being heads-down and in-the-weeds trying to make the call.
She wishes she’d closed the loop.
Let’s all learn from this.