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Courage Culture Fear Psychological Safety Self awareness

Don’t challenge me, Erikjan!

Simply assuming that speaking up will solve everything is wishful thinking and a mistake of someone who doesn’t understand hierarchy and power dynamics.

I consider myself outspoken and not afraid to voice my opinion when I disagree.

It’s who I am.

It’s how I was raised, and it’s part of the Dutch culture.

We’re direct, curious, and want to know why we’re doing something.

“Because I tell you so” doesn’t do very well with most Dutch people.

Yes, I’m stereotyping here, but I find that there’s a truth to it.

Like with most characteristics, too much of it becomes counterproductive. We’re also considered stubborn, hard to work with, and flat-out arrogant sometimes.

These are parts of the Dutch culture I only came to see once I started living abroad.

It doesn’t always serve you well to voice your opinion and pretend you know everything immediately.

A little bit of humility goes a long way. I’ve learned so much while living and working in other cultures.

So, I’ve learned to hold back when needed.

I’ve learned to analyze specific situations better and keep my mouth shut.

I’ve learned to pick my battles and not try to win every battle.

I’ve learned that the boss sometimes is the boss and has earned the right to make the call.

I grew up a little older and wiser.

But…

(Be honest, you knew this was coming)

Only when I know the intentions of the boss.

Only when the boss has my respect.

Only when I trust the boss.

And not when I feel firm about something, and I know (and did my homework) that the boss is not correct, and the company is suffering from it.

Then I speak up, no matter the consequences.

In the following story, I spoke up, challenged the boss, was aware of potential consequences, and still did it because it was for the better of the company.

It’s the last part of that sentence, that I care about most.

If the company will suffer, and you know it, you must speak up and let people know.

No matter how far you have to go with your feedback, you need to voice your opinion.

Planes have crashed because co-pilots were unwilling to tell their captain the truth.

Companies have gone bankrupt because everybody knew the bosses were frauds, but nobody dared to say anything.

Back to my story.

I was part of a leadership team, and the company I was part of was not performing well. Results were not getting better, and consequently, projects to get us out of this situation were piling up.

To the level, it became too much to handle.

We were shooting from the hip without a deliberate plan of action.

That’s how it felt.

The less senior leadership team members were in alignment that this mess of projects was not going to work.

We needed to prioritize what mattered most.

And make some hard choices.

We decided to engage in a conversation with the company’s leaders, the executive committee.

Long story short, our feedback wasn’t received very well. It went that far that the CEO shouted at me that I shouldn’t dare and continue to challenge him.

He asked us to leave the room, except for his direct team. We heard him shouting behind the well after we left the room.

So much for speaking up.

Later that day, we all received an email explaining why we were wrong, and we needed to continue to execute the projects were had selected.

I received a personal email explaining what I still had to learn as a leader and that there were moments to speak up and moments to be silent.

Ouch.

Simply assuming that speaking up will solve everything is wishful thinking and a mistake of someone who doesn’t understand hierarchy and power dynamics.

People need to feel safe to speak up.

AND…

Managers need to listen well, be open to feedback, and have the sincere intention to create a culture where people feel safe to voice their opinions.

Most of all, they need to be willing to look in the mirror and question their own thinking and behavior.

Few of them can.

But, those who do are the REAL leaders.

Real leaders know that better starts with who.

If you’re in a culture like this, or you’ve spent some time looking in the mirror, it’s time for a conversation. Schedule your growth conversation below, and we can discuss.

Your turn: how do you deal with critical feedback?

Do more of what makes you happy!

Erikjan

PS. The company was put back on track by a different CEO who radically prioritized what needed to get done first.

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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