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Leadership Mistake Three: Not "Closing the Loop"

This lesson is a part of an audio course Leadership Lessons from Your Followers by Andy Edwards

In this lesson, we explore a specific communication failure which, in my experience, results in more symptoms than just about any other. The clues are in the following accusations:

  • "My boss never listens!"
  • "It's pointless me saying anything to my manager."
  • "Nothing ever happens anyway."
  • "I might as well not have bothered."
  • "They don't care anyway!"

All the accusations above, are a symptom of a breakdown in communication.

As their most significant resource, you can expect followers to come to you with requests, ideas, problems to be solved and goals to be achieved. In fact, I would say that it is part of your leadership role to actively encourage, if not demand this kind of input from your team. Currently, you might think of these as "Moans".

As part of your one-to-ones (which you have established or reinvigorated after the last chapter), mine or dig for information from your followers that could help the team achieve its goals easier, quicker, cheaper, faster. Followers love to come up with ideas, innovations, suggestions, BUT ONLY when the leader welcomes this and then doesn't fail them in this area.

So, this failure – failure three of seven is:

Failing to act on or "close the loop" on requests and issues raised individually or collectively.

Followers want you to be receptive to their thoughts and ideas. However, this in itself isn't enough. To close the loop will avoid your followers feeling ignored and dismissed. If you fail to get back to them, they will grow agitated and yet passive, feeling powerless to make a difference. Agitation and passivity = disconnection and apathy. Through low morale and a feeling of pointlessness, your followers stop giving you their best ideas, often taking their ideas to another organization.

Too many leaders don't recognize THEIR part in the effects of this failure because the symptoms manifest in moaning, sullen, stubborn, and uncooperative behavior in team members, which makes it easy to blame them! And yet, an easy remedy is available. It's what followers want, and it's this:

When your follower has an issue to raise, point to make, observation, problem, idea – even a moan… LISTEN to them. But also, crucially, CLOSE THE LOOP by answering in one of the four ways below.

Answer #1: Yes of course. Do it now, what resource do you need from me?

Perfect validation and capitalization on a great idea. Usually low risk, low cost, and easy to say "Yes" to. Perhaps decide on a discretionary sum of money, below which you automatically look for ways of answering in the affirmative.

Answer #2: Sounds good to me, let's make sure your business case stacks up. If it does, what's the first step and what do you need from me?

Another great validation and appreciation of the follower's input. Likely to be a bigger or more far-reaching or even riskier idea than warrants a simple "Yes" like we said in number one but it still sounds positive to the follower.

Answer #3: I think that the idea/issue is important. That said, I believe we have some higher priorities at the moment. Can you bring this up again in three months because whilst your idea is worth looking at, our focus is elsewhere right now?

You clearly value their input and leave the onus on the follower to pick it back up again. By the way, you have stated that there are more important priorities. If necessary make sure your follower recognizes these too.

Answer #4: Thanks for the idea/bringing this up. It's a no from me, and here's why!

Now, it goes without saying that you then explain your reasoning behind the "no". Many leaders are still surprised at how supportive followers can be once they have been heard and understood, even if they disagree with the final decision.

There IS a fifth answer which is essentially a "Holding" pattern prior to giving one of the four answers. Something like:

"OK, can you leave this with me as it might impact x, y, or z? I'll get back to you by close of play Wednesday with an answer for you."

And make sure you do. If you don't, you're going to lose trust, respect, and loyalty. If you really are prone to forgetfulness, then say:

"If I haven't come back to you by then, give me a nudge would you?"

But this is nowhere near as powerful as getting back to the follower when you say you're going to. It's what world-class leaders do.

So, get clear on closing the loop; welcoming and getting back to your followers regarding their ideas suggestions, and concerns.

Your task is to simply remember to give one of the four answers:

  1. Yes, go ahead.
  2. Great idea, what's the first step?
  3. Sounds good – but not yet.
  4. No, here's why.

Try it next time a follower brings you an idea or suggestion. And close that loop.

Our next lesson addresses failure number four the failure of a leader to accept challenges.

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Written by

Andy Edwards