The ivory tower of the leader

The ivory tower of the leader

Internationally certified (team) coach Angela van Dorssen talks about her day-to-day practice. She has been a certified neuro-transformational coach since March 2020.

A recurring theme when I work with teams is that people are reluctant to speak out and call others to account. And if you also need to do that within a hierarchical structure, that appears to be even more nerve-racking. Fear may be a better word. I hear employees saying things like: “This will come back to haunt me in my performance review.” And even more often: “I’m not doing it anymore. It’s pointless anyway. They are sitting up there in their ivory tower!” Talking about the manager is therefore the norm in teams.

Don’t leave it at that

Avoidance is normal human behaviour, but it is also a shame. In this way, you block innovation in organisations. After all, you ideally want to be able to communicate openly with each other in teams; that you can speak out, even if you have a different opinion than your manager. You want to be able to call your manager to account about content and behaviour, without worrying about harming the relationship or fearing reprisals.

Dear leader, you can turn this around…

Trained to respond in terms of content

For one leadership team, it was something of an aha moment when they discovered that they were so used to responding in terms of content that they were failing to notice the signals of their employees when they were called to account for their behaviour. A group of employees had plucked up the courage to give them feedback on their behaviour. Instead of responding to the feedback, they zoomed out to the content and came up with a solution to a content-related problem that had not been requested. The employees left disillusioned: “See, I told you it was pointless.” They then talk with each about it anyway and send the managers to their ivory tower.

As a leader, do you have the courage to allow something to affect you personally?

Feedback only makes sense if you are actually willing to listen AND actually take in the message. If your employee gives you feedback about your behaviour, tell him/her what effect that has on you and compliment them for making the effort. It takes quite a lot of courage to climb the metaphorical ivory tower. It doesn’t mean that you agree with it. Ask yourself these questions: ’What impact am I having on the other person? What do I think about that? And what can I do to increase my impact?’Respond, in any case, to the feedback given. You don’t have to do so right away, but let the person know when you will get back to them.

Wrong expectations

Employees can also play their part in ensuring more open communication. I hear them express the expectation that the manager should always act on the feedback. What they see is true. In my view, there is a mismatch in expectations here. It is up to you to convey the feedback as explicitly and constructively as possible. It is up to the other person, in this case the manager, to assess what he/she will do with it. An open conversation, followed by suitable feedback, is a more realistic expectation.

Feel free to get in touch if you would like brainstorm one time about your team or about your own behaviour.

Team coaching