I’ve often said good leaders never assume that silence means everyone is in agreement.
Especially during seasons of change, the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme, people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is, leaders can be intimidating just by position—whether they intend to be or not. On the other extreme, people may not say what’s on their mind, simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. But, all of us only know what we know. We don’t know any more.
The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.
There is one caveat to this principle, however:
When a team is healthy—really healthy—so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion. When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama. And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.
When the team is really healthy…
Silence can be interpreted as agreement.
- The freedom to challenge is present
- The fear of retribution is absent
- The power of unity is prominent
- The spirit of cooperation is elevated
- The synergy of differences is celebrated
- The collaboration of ideas has been utilized
- The sharing of thoughts is welcomed
When you are on a really healthy team, people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.
I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been there more than a few times in my leadership career. I’m not even sure we are there yet with our current team. We have new staff members and we are in a season of rapid change. But, in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way. I’ll be reminding our team of this principle and the ramifications of it.
A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question: What does silence on my team indicate?
If people aren’t pushing back against change, what does that really mean?
And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.
This article originally appeared here.