“Powerful people have a hard time listening to payroll people, don’t they?”
– Andy Stanley

We’ve all read the stories of business people who have “made it” and then found a glorious way to blow it all up. I think the media enjoy finding these stories but it’s also a common thread to success.

Why does this happen?

The higher up the mountain you climb, and more people try to hang onto your ascent.  People stop telling you the truth and your propensity to make poor decisions increases. Perhaps that’s due to the lack of oxygen from the altitude.

It’s lonely at the top. The go alone, go fast, work hard American “bootstrap method” is dangerous when you don’t need the straps to continue the growth of your company, yet, keep going because it feels right and is the way you’ve always done it.

How do I know? Experience.

We had just endured a heated debate about where we were putting our resources for the following year. The topic was a project that should have been killed a long time ago. I was feeling some six-figure sunk cost bias and saw a teeny tiny light at the end of the tunnel.

After that meeting, our COO came into my office and told me the hard truth about what I was doing to the company. He said I was stealing. Can you believe that? What was I stealing? “Your stealing employee time from our core business, profitability, energy, and our culture.”

Ouch. All because of my pet project. My initial reaction was anger: What?!? “You don’t have all the information. I have a vision for this company!” He let me run my course and did an amazing thing. He let the silence and his stare hold his words.

Sigh . . . He was right. That was a hard truth to hear. I’m surprised that I had the ears to hear it that day.

In Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges book, The Servant Leader, they told some truth of their own:

“If you can’t name any active truth-tellers in your life or if you have avoided or undervalued the ones you have, it’s time for a change. Having truth-tellers in your life is important. It is probably your greatest opportunity for growth. There are two main ways that growth takes place: when one is open to feedback from other people and when one is willing to disclose vulnerabilities to others.”

I believe in truth-tellers so much I’ve decided to do it for a living. Through Acumen, I am a mastermind facilitator, a certified executive business coach, and thrice a business owner.

I now hear over and over how isolated you feel, how information coming to you is biased, and how easy it is to get lulled into thinking you are in control, know it all, or can figure it out by sheer will.

You need people in your corner, truth-tellers, around you to help you see blind spots and get sharp, inspired, and challenged to increase your leadership effectiveness and organizational performance—all so you can clearly see yourself and your company.

Having both internal and external truth-tellers allows you to make better decisions and have a greater understanding of yourself inside and outside the office; it also helps you grow, which is something I see leaders stop doing at the top quite often.

It’s not that you don’t want to grow. You do. Listening to truth is hard and take intentionality to find the right people and community.

Assess your Yourself

Are you teachable? I’m amazed by the number of leaders who know it all, have a perceived understanding of all facets of their company and are still “Command and Direct” leaders. They come from an “Only the strong survive” and “Never let them see you sweat” culture. If the above scenario happened to you, how would you have reacted? Can you change your mind, position, and perspective when the facts change?

Assess your Relationships

Can you name your corner?

Name three to five people in your life that speak truth to you. Truth is both positive and negative, celebratory, and critical. If you can’t name any such people, see below. If you can, do they know that they are in your corner? Are they safe from your wrath when they do tell the truth? How do you engage them to get the feedback you need?

Make a List Truth-Tellers

  • Family, Marriage, and Kids: This is not your spouse. This is someone whom you can honestly share the good and bad of your family at whatever stage of life.
  • Internal Company: Who is your trusted advisor on your executive team who will tell you the truth or call you out when and where appropriate?
  • External Company: Who or where do you turn to get an overall perspective when you need direction, can’t see the forest for the trees, or just make sure you aren’t crazy?
  • Faith: Who do you go to for spiritual guidance?

The ceiling of a company’s growth is only as high as the growth potential of its leader. When you stop listening and growing, so does your company.