“Melburn McBroom was a domineering boss, with a temper that intimidated those who worked with him. That fact might have passed unremarked had McBroom worked in an office or a factory, but McBroom was an airline pilot. One day, McBroom’s plane was approaching Portland, Oregon, when he noticed a problem with the landing gear, so McBroom went into holding pattern, circling the field at high altitude while he fiddled with the mechanism. As McBroom obsessed about the landing gear, the plane’s fuel gauges steadily approached the empty level, but his co-pilots were so fearful of McBroom’s wrath that they said nothing, even as disaster loomed. The plane crashed, killing ten people.” – Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence
Let’s take a closer look at the McBroom example to see if we can’t make some sense of this unbelievable situation. On the one hand, you have the boss (airline captain) who overtime appears to have created such a caustic environment that his direct reports (co-pilots) are so unwilling to provide McBroom with feedback for fear of being yelled at, shunned, or embarrassed, they say nothing … even at the peril of their own lives.
On the other hand, you have the two direct reports (co-pilots) who are highly educated, skilled and whose responsibility is to provide feedback to their boss (Captain) to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew, but failed to do so when it counted. It just doesn’t make sense, does it?
For many, this story may appear to be an extreme example and though extreme, we would argue, our inability to have the needed conversations (whatever they may be) in our own lives is not that uncommon. Many of us want to address issues, problems and concerns, but want to eliminate any tension and remain comfortable in delivering the message.
By the nature of these situations and issues, having these conversations is uncomfortable, and requires being willing to exchange or even sacrifice a level of our comfort for increased conversational effectiveness.
One could argue, that by even having a conversation, the environment may initially be more uncomfortable because important issues and topics are being addressed and discussed that may have been ignored or avoided for years.
As leaders, we must focus on fully developing each member of our team as well as providing them with guidance, coaching, and feedback regularly, which may be accomplished through a method we call Courageous Conversations™.
The definition or overall purpose of a courageous conversation is to help leaders appreciate the vital importance of rigorous, balanced, effective conversations around difficult, challenging subjects; to recognize the defensive tendencies that often hamper such conversations; and to explore and practice a tested framework for facilitating balanced conversations under stress.