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The more senior we get, the quieter it gets

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The more senior we get, the quieter it gets.

(so push people to yell and we just might hear them)

In my last executive role, I said to someone trusted how little gossip there was in my group.

She said I was crazy. There was plenty of gossip!

Turns out I’d conveniently mistaken an absence of gossip around me as evidence of no gossip at all.

Do I want to be included in the gossip? No. But I do want to make sure my team feels free to share anything with me.

Which points to a broader lesson on the challenges in maintaining radical candour around us as we become more senior.

Here’s what I think happened…

As I was promoted, I didn’t feel any different. I was still the same person. So I assumed people would treat me the same.

But the gossip dropped away. Not because it stopped, but because people stopped sharing it with me.

This was partly because I disliked gossip. I didn’t engage in it. And I challenged those around me who did.

But it’s also because – whether we like it or not – as we become more senior, people become more careful around us.

This is problematic, because our success as a leader relies on our ability to hear and understand our team.

The answer isn’t to wish we were included in the gossip – gossip is a corrosive sign of workplace immaturity.

It’s instead to work hard to create a safe space around us where people feel free to speak up and share their views with us. However inconvenient they might be.

And, the more senior we are, the harder we must work to maintain that space.

So much so that we will feel uncomfortable at just how hard we’re working to get people to speak up.

And at how relentlessly we need to invite feedback.

And how tirelessly we need to work to respond safely when people share it (even when we don’t like it or agree with it).

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