What’s It Hurt To Ask?

by Jennifer Miller on October 16, 2009

in Leadership

I just returned from conducting on-site meetings for a new client.  The CEO of this company hired me to help his employees make the transition to a new organizational structure. We’re doing a series of input meetings, SWOT analyses and informational interviews.  Something that one of the employees said this morning is really sticking with me—“You know, the fact that Pete (the CEO)  is asking for our input is significantly increasing the probability that this new structure will succeed.”

How true. Also true—the fact that so many leaders forget (or perhaps ignore?) this simple act.  It costs nothing and potentially pays huge dividends. For years, I’ve counseled leaders that “people will support that which they helped to create”.  Yes, you’ll get your naysayers and it does take longer to build consensus. But you’ll also get some grass-root advocates from the get-go, which all the money in the world can’t buy you.

In your experience, why do leaders hesitate to ask for input?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tammy Colson October 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm

IME, leaders fail to ask for input because of poor leadership skills. Many times they are not cognizant of the fact that “intelligent people want to agree, not to obey” – Companies spend inordinate amounts of resources on hiring their “A-team”, but I have found that the successful companies truly engage their teams and utilize the ideas they are paying for. The ones that do not are succeeding in spite of themselves, but won’t for the long haul.

Thomas Waterhouse October 16, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I have to be a tad “clinical” here, but certain “defensive structures” lend themselves to some folks becoming high achievers, and leaders. Painful “unconscious self-rejection” propels some to organize their energy and their world in such a way that they are always seen as “heros”. Having arrived at any position of influence, they surround themselves with supporters, and they don’t ask for critical feedback since at the core of their being, it would be too painful to hear of faults or weaknesses. It’s simply a theory, and about as brief as I can be. As always Jennifer, you are very thought-provoking. Thanks!

Ken Trupke October 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm

Important topic, Jennifer! Here’s my take.

I believe that leaders WANT to listen. They KNOW everyone has something important to contribute. They KNOW that they’ll find the REAL problems, get better solutions to those problems, and get buy-in to implement the solutions if they listen and get input.

But often leaders fail (or are reluctant) to ask for input because they think they’ll be obligated to PERSONALLY resolve every issue that’s raised. They know that that will be ineffective, distracting, and demoralizing to them and the organization.

They remember that the last time they asked, they were deluged with issues ranging from important to petty and felt an obligation to deal equally with each one (everyone’s input is important, right?). They remember how overwhelming and time-consuming it was to try to get through everything.

They also remembers that the 80/20 rule turned into the “95/5 rule” and not only did they spend nearly all their time on the unimportant, in the end, the people with those issues weren’t even happy with the help. So they’d rather not travel that path again.

Now this is obviously a false dichotomy. The choices are not listen and be overwhelmed/ineffective OR don’t listen. But leaders need to be comfortable that they have a plan to listen AND effectively deal with what they hear.

What does that plan include?

Jennifer October 16, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Such rich contributions– thanks, Tammy, Thomas and Ken. Here’s the interesting thing…I’ve seen each of these “styles” of leadership at play. The thread I see from each of your comments is “caring”– either too much about one’s own “self” or about being the problem solver or about one’s image. In each case, the “care” is being applied in a way that’s not helpful to the situation.

Thanks for stopping by to share your musings on the people equation.

Deirdre October 18, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Curiously, I find some of the best ideas, resources and input from those NOT in leadership positions. But they don’t get heard or even acknowledged – why? My experience is this:

It’s disingenuous. The request is made for show, they have no intention of seriously considering the input and don’t even read the ideas. They use it to ‘make employees feel like part of the process.” And employees see through the smokescreen. So it’s easier to just not ask.

Leaders don’t ask because they honestly believe that they have all the answers. And 99% of the time, they are wrong.

Leaders are afraid to make the needed changes. Status quo is easier. Safer. Less confrontation. Less work.

I have seen this all. Sadly, but true.

Jennifer October 18, 2009 at 3:57 pm


It sure is frustrating to encounter leadership that “plays it safe”. But I DO know of leaders (as with my new client) that are willing to ask the questions, and it always pays dividends.

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