Yesterday I met with a man who is in charge of turning around a failing business. He was headed into 14 meetings with first level people. He had a prepared message. As he entered the first meeting he noted how absolutely miserable the people felt and he knew that delivering the message was the wrong thing to do. Instead he opened the meeting and made it possible for the people to say what they felt. There was a great outpouring of messages that were hard to hear. At the end he had an intuition. He said, “I am going to count to three. When I do I want you all to yell out the one word that describes how you feel.”
About 80% of the people yelled the same word, “frustrated.” The collective expression was like a deep religions moment. The feeling in the room changed. The conversation changed.
After 14 meetings, a woman who had accompanied the man called him. She told him she had been deeply reflecting on all she heard in those 14 authentic conversations. Then she said, “I have come to the conclusion that all the people want the exact same thing. They want to know that they matter.”
The conventional assumption in organizations is that the leader “knows.” In the positive organization, the leader holds authentic conversations and everyone is learning together.