Fierce Practice: From Legislated Optimism to Radical Transparency
Based on Susan Scott : Fierce Leadership
Weak leaders want agreement. But fierce leaders want to know the truth. As leaders, we need to encourage those we lead to tell us the whole truth, paint the whole picture, even if it’s ugly, unpleasant, not what we wish it to be. Because only then can we put our best efforts forward to fix what needs fixing.
What is Legislated Optimism?
In short, legislated optimism is the tactic of those who attempt to camouflage rotten news with pretty words, confusing words, empty words.
If your house stinks to high heaven, don’t go looking for whatever expired under the sink; just mask that odor with a different one. If The smell is really bad, set the air freshener on “high.”
In schools this is typified by a refusal to acknowledge reality around teaching and learning, results, attendance. The propaganda that says everything is okay when it is transparently not okay.
Only the usual suspects are invited to the table. It’s always the same people, the same flow, the same distractions, the same argument for the same strategy, which nets the same outcomes.
Mokitas abound. Mokita is a term from Papua New Guinea. It means “that which everyone knows and no one speaks of.” The health of any community is judged by the number of mokitas that exist within it.
There is a gap between “official truths” and “ground truths.” When a company nears disaster, people who work there admit they knew it was coming, based on the reality with which they were confronted daily. In schools this often around things like behaviour.
We experience implementation agony. If we’ve been assured that all is well, why struggle to implement new initiatives that require us to change?
There is an absence of accountability. We’re not fond of taking accountability for the success or failure of someone’s decision if our input was not solicited and valued in the first place, especially when leaders peddle rosy predictions and deny corporate dysfunction.
We declare war on the wrong things. The problem isn’t HERE with me, with us. It’s over THERE. It’s YOU. It’s THEM. It’s THAT. It’s THIS.
We may not cook the books, but sometimes we cook the truth. We tell ourselves that technically, withholding, obfuscating, avoiding, reframing the truth isn’t lying, it’s just being optimistic
The result of these lies? Our very soul.
As a leader where do you sit. Is your reality on the left or right?
The alternative to all this is the idea of ‘radical transparency’. An organisation where we fiercely pursue the truth and accept nothing less.
The leaders job is:
“When you turn over rocks and look at all the squiggly things underneath, you can either put the rock down, or you can say, ‘My job is to turn over rocks and look at the squiggly things,’ even if what you see can scare the hell out of you.”
Susan Scott asks a great question which I think all leaders need to ask themselves:
“How can I become the kind of person to whom people will speak the truth?”
Making it happen.
- Act in a way that is consistent with your objective of honesty. In other words, model it yourself. Say things, confess things that scare you.
- Set a tone and an atmosphere in which competing ideas, opinions, and styles are not just encouraged, but expected.
- Engage people intellectually and emotionally.
- Ask people for specifics regarding context (meaning), as well as content.
- Involve attendees in two-way discussions—rather than coming across as a “presenter” who is merely a talking head.
- Moderate interactions to avoid inappropriate comments, nonconstructive criticism, and grandstanding. Blunt honesty is useful; offensive comments are not.
- Make needed adjustments in pacing and participation to ensure that you involve and hear from everyone present.
- As always, start and end the meeting on time.
- What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?
- What do we believe is impossible for us to do that if it were possible, would change everything?
- Are there integrity outages that need correcting?
- If you could give me just one piece of advice, what would you advise me?
- What do you need from this team that you’re not getting?
- What could you contribute to this team that you’re not contributing
- Or put a specific topic on the table and ask:
- Given our current reality, if nothing changes, what are the implications?
- Given this current situation with X, what would you advise?