One of the most difficult aspects of being a leader is to hear what could be perceived as criticism about something you have said, done or changed. Yet non-profit leaders are asked to make all kinds of decision with the goal to do our mission better or improve our organization. However, these changes can often be read as threatening by our staff members.
In my decades of non-profit leadership, I have had to make a number of changes at Lakeside. Sometimes it was to change our size through growth. Sometimes I changed our direction or added new programs. Often I felt a need to be more entrepreneurial. There were times when I had to change staff or have uncomfortable meetings. What we know is that most people typically struggle with change and sometimes need to talk about it.
It is important for non-profit leaders to be in a position to hear what staff are feeling. Yet hearing those uncomfortable emotions or perspectives may be hard for leaders who are in fact responsible for some of the key decisions. Some decisions I have made had consequences that I did not or could not predict. In those moments leaders tend to withdraw and can become insecure. Yet that strategy would be moving towards an uninformed and disconnected leader. In those moments our staff might begin to make judgements which can lead to negative emotions and distrust of their leader.
It is important that leaders understand that feedback is the only way to stay in touch with the emotions and perspectives of their staff. I strongly believe in an open-door policy for staff to be able to speak with either me or other leaders in our organization about whatever they are perceiving or experiencing in their role, job or in the organization itself. In so doing, some of the misunderstandings and miscommunications can be corrected or avoided.
I reference my former post on using HUG as a way to listen effectively to staff. Even when leaders are feeling like they are being criticized it is important that we receive it as feedback, carefully weigh what is being said and work to gain clarity on whatever issues are being presented. When there is disagreement we will have an authentic understanding of each other as we work towards resolve and stronger relationships. We also can make adjustments that may help employees feel heard.
I will add that we as non-profit leaders need to consistently invite feedback from our staff. We need to make it safe for them to communicate which leads to the important point of being self-regulated. We also have to realize that it is very hard for staff members to communicate or confront their leaders. Sometimes that is because they do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Other times it is because they are afraid of the repercussions. It is not easy to create an environment where honest feedback is openly given. That means we as leaders need to invite it by how we approach it those moments and sometimes be willing to work through difficult conversations so that we can create healthy relational environments within our organizations. It takes time, work, commitment and courage to invite feedback that will enhance our understanding of each other so we can do our mission as a staff that is aligned and relationally intact.