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What to Do if You're Surrounded by Yes-People
Workplace

What to Do if You're Surrounded by Yes-People

by Jane Smith
What to Do if You're Surrounded by Yes-People

Story Highlights

  • The stakes are high if no one is willing to tell you you're wrong
  • When you ask for feedback, be prepared to hear the truth -- and make changes
  • It's important to trust and depend on the expertise of others

"Your success as a leader depends on your reputation extending beyond your closest confidants."

When's the last time someone who's not your superior challenged you?

If you can't remember an instance, you might be surrounded by "yes-people": people who support your opinions and proposals without criticism.

As a leader, you likely haven't put yourself in this situation on purpose. It feels good to be told you have good ideas and smart opinions. And you do have many -- you didn't land in your current leadership position by accident.

But no one is right 100% of the time, and when you're a leader, the stakes are high if no one is willing to tell you when you're wrong.

The risks of being surrounded by yes-people include:

  • the customer experience can take a back seat to your requests
  • people often share their feedback everywhere but to your face
  • there's little room for innovation because people are focused on delivering what you want
  • there's potential for high turnover as your most talented employees leave

The solution isn't to fire everyone who agrees with you. Most likely, those yes-people have become yes-people by adapting to the company culture and what's been expected of them in the past.

The solution lies in a decision to create an environment where people can speak truth to power.

Culture change isn't easy, and if you start down the path toward transparency and candor, in some cases you might be asking people to unlearn years of habits.

The solution lies in a decision to create an environment where people can speak truth to power.

How do you begin? Take these three steps, supported by research-backed breakthroughs from our upcoming book, It's the Manager.

1. Demonstrate that you're all on the same team.

Do your best to make everyone who reports to you, directly or indirectly, feel heard. Specifically ask, "Is there something I could have done better in that situation?" or, "What do you need from me?" Depending on your role, schedule team feedback sessions or company town halls with time dedicated to open Q&A.

You might think the people you lead only want answers from you, but they want a true partner who's open to growth and improvement.

Also, it's okay not to have all the answers.

You might think the people you lead only want answers from you, but they want a true partner who's open to growth and improvement.

If you share the stories of your failures along with the lessons gleaned from them that led to success, you'll not only be more relatable, you'll help create a culture of trust.

Finally, acknowledge people who are willing to productively and respectfully disagree, and open a discussion that leads to a better solution.

As a result, rather than everyone else uniting to keep you happy, you and the team will unite to do what's best for the company and customer.

Acknowledge people who are willing to productively and respectfully disagree, and open a discussion that leads to a better solution.

According to It's the Manager:

"All organizations have problems they need to resolve. Whether people work through friction to fix problems or point fingers depends a lot on what they think of their leadership."

2. Make sure you can handle the truth.

Be prepared that when you ask for feedback, people might give it to you straight.

Hearing the true state of things can be jarring, especially if the culture at your company is for leaders to be cheerleaders for an initiative or change. You need to know how those changes affect people down the line.

It's the Manager shows us what happens when leaders are protected from the scramble, the long hours, and the personal sacrifices of sleep, health, and family that often accompany a culture that rewards yes-people:

"At first, most employees want to believe the inspiring messages. But their day-to-day experiences make them question leaders' authenticity. They are asked to change their course to align with a new initiative, but don't know why. They get their annual review and have no idea why they didn't get the bonus or promotion they expected. Some slacker who plays office politics got it instead. A benefit just got cut. Their manager blames it on upper management. What do employees think about their inspiring leader now?"

So, get in the trenches. Take the time to sit down and ask questions to better understand your teams' job responsibilities and pain points so you can better lead.

Then act on the feedback. Make the tough calls required to solve the problems that come up.

3. Let people do the jobs you hired them for.

The third element in Gallup's 12 elements needed for team success is: "At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day." It's near the top of the list because it's one of the most foundational.

People want to do what you hired them to do. They also want to know that you depend on their expertise -- that their role is important, and you trust them.

It's hard to let go. You're invested in the success of the organization, and you frequently see areas where you would have done things differently.

People want to do what you hired them to do. They also want to know that you depend on their expertise -- that their role is important, and you trust them.

But the better strategy is to invest in your own leadership strengths, and let other people shine with theirs.

Managers -- through their strengths, their own engagement and how they work with their teams every day -- account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.

And organizational leaders are managers, too. They manage the managers.

According to It's the Manager:

"The best organizations have leaders who encourage teams to solve problems at the local level rather than using top-down commands. They focus their training and development programs on building local manager and team capability to solve issues on their own."

When you listen to your team, find out the truth about people's daily experiences, and empower people to do what they do best, the yes-people will start to dwindle. They'll be replaced with people courageous enough to be candid with you. Your leadership -- and your organization -- will be better for it.

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Jane Smith is a writer and content strategist for Gallup.

Gallup


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