I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement. In fact, there’s a whole chapter on that principle and some good questions you can ask to assess the team’s health in my book The Mythical Leader.
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 say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. All of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.
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 healthy,
Silence can be interpreted as agreement.
- Freedom to challenge is present
- Fear of retribution is absent
- Power of unity is prominent
- Spirit of cooperation is elevated
- Synergy of differences is celebrated
- Collaboration of ideas has been utilized
- Sharing of thoughts is welcomed (And good questions are being asked)
When you are on a healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they aren’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.
I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been to this point more than a few times in my leadership career. New staff members joining changes this. Seasons of rapid change alter this. But I like to remind our team of this principle and the ramifications of it and always be working towards 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.