Speaking Up to the Boss: Good Followers

Speaking up to the boss is risky, but necessary as a career booster. Good leadership takes two to tango. You can’t have effective leadership without courageous followers who take their position of power seriously by speaking up and asking the right questions.

We’ve seen how failure to speak up over policies that seem questionable or unethical leads to disasters. The recent financial crisis was exacerbated by the fact that many of the financial leaders didn’t have a good understanding of the financial products they were selling.

They were too embarrassed to admit it and as long as they were making good money, didn’t ask the right questions. Things might have gone differently if somebody had the courage to stand up and ask good questions. That’s good followership, and that’s good leadership.

The danger in the leader-follower relationship is the assumption that the leader’s interpretation must dominate. If this assumption exists on the part of either the leader or the follower, both are at risk.

The leader’s openness will diminish. Followers will easily lose their unique perspective and abandon healthy disagreement. Creativity and problem-solving processes become stifled. Everyone sinks into group-think.

It is obviously not an easy task to speak up and challenge the leader, but without the courage and skill to do so, corporate failure and scandals ensue.

Giving candid feedback to the boss is a skill that is not practiced as often as necessary. Working with a neutral party such as a consultant or executive coach can help a follower or executive team member to act courageously and effectively.

Quite frankly, I don’t see how you can learn to be more effective in your position in an organization without taking a risk. It’s an important risk to take by speaking up. Done well, everybody will pay attention and respect you, even if your opinion is voted down.

Done poorly, well, let’s not think about how that can ruin your career and your reputation. So how do you learn to speak up without making a fool of yourself? You can’t do it alone, in my opinion.

You need to run your ideas by another trusted person. You need to get feedback, and you probably need to practice several ways of saying it. You can’t do that alone. That’s what a coach is for. If you’ve got one, use him or her well. If not, get one.

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