Fostering candid debate is critical for effective leadership. Absent that, the quality of your own leadership will be limited, as your team will give you what you want to hear, rather than what you need to know.
In my executive coaching practice, I notice many leaders imagine themselves open to being challenged or contradicted. Yet in practice there are two issues: 1. many people working for a leader tend to avoid conflict and/or “yes” the one in charge, and 2. the supposedly open-minded leader may have a blind-spot tendency to go on offense or defense when challenged, sending the signal agreement is strongly preferred.
Be attentive to how you respond to being challenged, questioned, or contradicted, and give your people extra leeway when they do so.
- In one-to-one meetings with your direct reports, ask for extra-candid feedback about the way you tend to respond to being told “no” or “I disagree.”
- If you discover you tend to send mixed signals about your level of openness to challenge, ask what you can do to increase the quality of debate / disagreement with you.
- If you notice individuals tend to avoid conflict, coach them on it, providing them support to be bolder in their input to you.