Lead with fortitude

Courage with transparency will bring about good governance and make a more effective and efficient organisation

The recent economic slowdown has shown that we are more reactive than proactive in terms of demonstrating courage. Best-of-breed leaders know and understand the nuances of demonstrating courage on a consistent basis, and individuals look up to leadership for guidance.
When issues become political or controversial, many leaders get intimidated instead of energised to stand tall and demonstrate courage. Effective leaders do what is right, not what they think people want. They dont run away from a controversy but instead, clarify their credentials and what they represent.
Demonstrating honesty and internalising it inside an organisation is more difficult than it sounds. It will be very difficult for organisational leadership to be honest with the community and the public stakeholders if they cannot be honest with themselves.

Organisational transparency and courage make sense as they bring about good governance and ethics, and make organisations run with better efficiency and effectiveness. In spite of this many leaders resist it because it goes against even the human nature in some ways.
Some leaders believe that information is a perk of being in power or close to the powers that be, and sincerely believe that it is a benefit that separates their privileged status from the working class. Such leaders derive a sense of intellectual superiority from such guarded information. They feel that they need to be selective or in many cases would only have the capability to use sensitive data or information. Some leaders even prefer sharing information on a need-to-know basis only or have opaque shields about what they do because it allows them to hide mistakes that may be committed.

How do you as an IT leader counter and resist these tendencies? How do you make a conscious decision to support transparency and create a culture of courage?
As with everything else, if you want to develop a culture of courage, start with self and then work on your environment, while keeping some of these recommendations in mind:

Believe in Satyamev Jayate (borrowing from our constitution): Speaking the truth is easier said than done; we have a natural impulse to tell others what they want to hear. True leaders tell everyone the same factual story. Once you develop a reputation for straight talk, your organisation will institutionalise it.
I once knew of a business leader who would talk and espouse values and invariably violate it every time he had a chance. It was no surprise that individuals and his managers used to ignore his emails and the message around values he would convey in his team meetings.

Follow Bottoms up approach in terms of driving courage: Encourage individuals lower down in the hierarchy to speak truth to seniors in the organisation. It is difficult for people lower in the hierarchy to tell seniors inconvenient truths but unfortunately that is what is needed to be heard by seniors.

A widely respected senior scientist who was the CEO of a technology unit once told me that he always wanted to hear the bad news first, as senior leadership needed to know more critically what was not working than what was working well. Create organisational conditions for people to be demonstrating courage and being factual about it.

Demonstrate and practice crucial conversations: Practice having critical and inconvenient conversations. The top leaders learn how to deliver bad news kindly so that individuals understand the context and do not take it personally. I have personally seen cultural issues playing a role in this but we need to get over that hurdle.

There is a great book around crucial conversations by a well known author which comes with a workbook, and can be used to teach the art of having crucial conversations. I personally think this is an area where most of us struggle and we tend to sugar coat critical conversations, which corrupts the message for the receiver.

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