Interpersonal Agility: Hearing the Truth

Peeking Around a Cubicle

In my last post, I introduced the idea that developing  a deep level of interpersonal agility is critical to being successful as a senior leader. That’s partially because as senior leaders rise to higher levels in their organization, they are less likely to hear the truth. The first reason for this is positional power.

The more costly reason, though, is because team members often feel compelled to waste time and energy managing around their manager based on his or her mood. As a result, they filter what they say and do, and the leader often receives only partial truth.

Here’s how it typically plays out.

As team members hear their leader enter his or her office, they roll their chairs to the edge of their imaginary cubical boundary, lean sideways while inconspicuously exposing only part of their head and shoulders, and sniff to get a sense of the boss’s mood. Then they decide whether to share an issue or a sticky topic.  They really don’t enjoy doing this, but it’s a survival instinct driven by a strong need for job preservation.

This often happens with senior leaders who get stuck in always having to be right. They can be found day-to-day shooting down ideas from others that don’t mesh with their own. As a result, team members hesitate to bring  their best ideas to the table. This is a sure-fire way of crushing creativity and innovation and creating a team of “yes-men.”

So back to interpersonal agility. Self-awareness is not enough. Senior leaders must also learn to self-regulate if they want to really understand the state of the business.