The final courage in Ira Chaleff’s book The Courageous Follower is for the leader – the courage to listen to followers. If you are a leader, do you really want courageous followers? Most of us would say we have the courage to listen to our followers, but do our behaviors send a different message? The litmus test is whether or not followers actually come to you with thorny concerns about work processes, policies, or your own behavior.
As you listen to followers, you want to do so in a way that builds a culture of communication and not a culture of complaints. Our job as leaders is to build a culture in which conflict is handled through healthy and creative dialogue.
Complaints should be taken to the person or persons who need to be addressed for it to be resolved. Leaders that listen to complaints are colluding with the dysfunctional culture.
When someone comes to you with a complaint about someone else in the organization, what is the first question you should ask them?
“Have you spoken to this person about your concern?”
If not, encourage them to do so. If necessary, provide some coaching on how to effectively approach someone with a concern. Provide an example from your own experience of when you did this at some point in your career and what happened as a result. Emphasize that you are not discounting either them or their issue, but you are working to build a culture where people communicate more effectively. Add that when they are in a leadership position someday, they too will appreciate the opportunity to hear directly from followers first when concerns arise. Remind them that the person they have the issue with is in the best position to address and resolve the issue. Make sure they understand that if they still have concerns after they have spoken directly to the individual, then please come see you again.
If you listen to complaints then you are teaching your followers that they don’t have to work together to solve their problems – you will do this for them. This paternalistic behavior on your part makes your followers dependent on you rather than making them interdependent with each other. If you listen to complaints you will create complacent instead of courageous followers.