Every leader faces skeptics. It’s normal, in some cases healthy. You build bridges to skeptics when you:
Get to the point
I’m skeptical of people that never get to the point. It feels like they are setting me up. Declare your intent up front and then state your case after.
Don’t belittle yourself or hog the spotlight
I’m skeptical of people that belittle their own contribution. Reject false humility and graciously accept praise. When people praise you try saying, “It feels great to add value.” Or say, “It’s great to lead a talented team.”
On the other hand, hogging glory violates trust and demoralizes others. In addition, stealing the spotlight creates work cultures where skeptical employees “pay you back” by withholding information, creating and spreading rumors, and give lack luster performances. Hogging glory fuels skepticism.
When others toot your horn, just say thanks.
Listen or don’t ask
Don’t ask questions unless you want answers. It’s not polite to ask questions just to be polite. It makes others feel manipulated, disrespected, and belittled. It fuels skepticism.
Demonstrate competence – acknowledge incompetence
Until you’ve demonstrated character and competence, skepticism is healthy.
Character alone doesn’t build trust. Covey puts it this way, “… competence is as vital to trust as character.” For example, my plumber is honest. I trust him to install a new shower. However, he’s not competent to give my car a tune-up. You answer skeptics with character and competence.
On the other hand, I feel better about you when you honestly let me know what you can’t do. For example, the nonprofit sector is filled with passionate, vision-driven leaders. However, a passionate, vision-driven leader that lacks economic skill can bankrupt an organization. You validate and build bridges to skeptics when you acknowledge, expose, provide for, and openly work on your inadequacies.
How can leaders deal with skeptics?
Great reminders Dan. I agree, there are always skeptics. One of the things that is critically important is to understand the root of their skepticism. There are some individuals that are instinctively skeptics. When they are striving to solve a problem they naturally question assumptions and look for proof before proceeding. Kathy Kolbe, in her groundbreaking work on conation with the Kolbe A assessment, has identified 4 spectrums of conative ability (Fact Finder, FollowThru, Quick Start, and Implementor). Each spectrum has a range from 1 to 10 with lower numbers indicating resistance and higher numbers indicating initiating behaviors. Research has shown that these MO’s are highly consistent over time. For instance – someone with a higher number in the Fact Finder continum will need more data before wanting to make a decision or move forward while someone with a lower number will be more inclined to go with their gut. In the quick start continuum, a team member with a lower score in the Quick Start continuum (the change continuum) will naturally question any change and be the person on your team to raise the “what if’s.” For me, as a leader, these teammates are very valuable. My natural talents are such that I naturally go with my gut and lack change resistance. Having a skeptic on my team helps me since they are the one who will encourage me to look for supporting facts AND understand the risks so that together we can address them.
When building teams, I use the Kolbe toolset to understand how each persn on the team naturally gets things done. If I am missing a “skeptic” I start looking for one to bring on board. Then I continually keep in mind that their “skepticism” is not personally directed at me – it is how they naturally solve problems and get things done and when we work together on a problem or project, we have a better chance of being successful as a team.
Here is my Christmas contribution to the the Leadership Freak community. I strongly suggest taking the Kolbe A. You can find it at http://www.kolbe.com. After you have completed the assessment, you will be sent your Kolbe MO (4 numbers). If you tweet them to me @JKWleadership I will be happy to schedule a time to discuss them with you as a gift this holiday season. (If you prefer not to tweet – you can also contact me via http://www.CorePurpose.com.)
Dan, to you and all of your team here at LeadershipFreak, best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season.
Good stuff. In regards to “get to the point”- I think sometimes enthusiasm and energy can make people long winded and possibly erratic.
I like that- get to the point, and then listen (like you suggested).
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Good morning Dan,
I can definitely identify with “It’s not polite to ask questions just to be polite.” It can make you wonder if they paid attention at all.
I know I become skeptical of others when their behavior betrays discomfort and nervousness. I think part of this skepticism is a natural safety response in our systems. For instance, on our recent business trip out West we had to stop overnight in a border town. We found ourselves feeling skeptical and leaving a hotel immediately due to someone’s unexplained nervous behavior in the lobby.
In a business environment, it’s not just the fact someone might be nervous, it’s the hiding and the avoidance that seems to be part of the territory. I’ve known leaders like this, who at the first sign of a question run away or refuse to answer. I’ve also known co-workers like this, who make others wonder what’s being plotted behind the scenes. Not to mention this kind of behavior tends to divide, not unite a group of people. If someone came right out and acknowledged their discomfort, that would be one thing. But withdrawing sucks the trust right out of the relationship.
Hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season,
I think leader can deal with skepticism by creating awareness, disseminating knowledge and setting your own example against the scepticism. Driver of Scepticism is ignorance and arrogance. Fear dominates scepticism. So, deal sceptics with discussion, debate, logic and reasoning etc. Facing the scepticim is the key to overcome it, avoiding it leads to enhancement of scepticism. I agree that more you know, learn and read, perhaps more sceptics you may be. And when you face and experience the reason of doubt and fear, your scepticism start to vanish.
I also believe that quesitiong our own beliefs can tackle this problem. Preconceived notion, stereotype thinking and following trends enhances sceptics. So, the way to deal with sceptics is to delayer our beliefs and question them with logic and reasoning.
Hogging glory fuels scepticism, I agree. It actually remains for short time. Hogging glory exposes you. When you are exposed, it is almost impossible to restore and regain your reputation and image. So, scepticim is better than hogging glory as long as it questions your beliefs rather than just following trends that masses follow.
I like your suggestion of accepting praise with “It feels good to add value.” Great great response. I think your simple “thank you” can also work. They are at opposite ends of the extrovert/introvert scale — yet both quite effective.
The other issue about skeptics that comes to my mind is:
Know the difference between a healthy questioning and endless skepticism.
Sometimes people who ask questions are seen as skeptics when in truth they just want to help the leader “vet” the issue appropriately.
Perennial skeptics, always negative, are in truth highly change resistant people. They reject diversity both in ideas and in people. They are a wart on the soul of a team’s morale.
How to spot the different? Contributors question AND make positive suggestions for improvements. Skeptics only list the “why nots”.
Unhealthy skepticism, usually self-centered with ulterior motivation requires direct action and often confrontation. Left unchecked, can become cancerous.
If the skepticism is relatively healthy and is generated from a series of historical precedents, then leadership needs to embrace it, lean into it and learn. As Joan noted, having the ‘skeptic’, the ‘devil’s advocate’ or the ‘yeah butter’ helps a team advance through an initiative and aids in weighing the alternatives. It is a case of what side of the tent you want that person.
I like your point, Dan, of owning your incompetence, inadequacies might be a bit gentler, opportunities for improvement being an even softer wording.
Being open and genuine in that you are still learning and that you need see those abilities in others on the team to advance the work and advance your own skills, how powerful is that!
Perhaps when the spotlight is on, one can acknowledge/appreciate the light, mix in one’s own limitations and point out that the team more than makes up for those gaps and helps in learning new attributes. A gentle shift of the light to others’ efforts and that the group effort multiples what each individual brings to the table.
Dan – as always, great post. Lots to think about. One of the greatest points I see in your post is, “When others toot your horn, just say thanks”. Keeps things simple and everyone moves on.
How to sell a vision in order to alleviate skepticism and bring others on board?
Actually, some social science studies suggest that “getting directly to the point” (i.e. *your* point) may actually be counterproductive and stimulate further skepticism and resistance: http://bit.ly/eWxxdz
A better strategy may be to start start from the listener is and engage in a conversation.
I’m sorry I missed this yesterday, but glad to be able to circle back around to it.
During the course of our organization’s several years with a Third Party Administrator transition that was very rocky, I observed the staff (myself included) descend into a pit of skepticism. Some of that skepticism is well-founded – there were and are technical and operational issues.
HOWEVER, it is a fine line for a leader to walk to acknowledge the skepticism (so people don’t feel that their concerns are being blown off) but to help the staff see the big picture — and to get out of the rut of assuming every action taken, every statement made by the organization that is the subject of the skepticism, will be bad/wrong/negative.
Thanks for the holiday gift of four posts in one. All of these interrelated points are valuable! I especially like the one on not belittling your efforts. This is great advice for those of us who have been trained to say, “Aw shucks, the team did it all.”
Thanks and enjoy the holidays!
Dan, I am stuck on your words; “When others toot your horn, just say thanks.”. Often I belittle the moment when someone gives me a compliment and I deflect it e.g. throw in a chirp about “it could have been better”, or some other wise crack. I am getting better at it, but it bothers me that I do not want to accept that complement unconditionally. What am I so skeptical about, you can see when people really mean it?
A skeptic is so important for my team. It keeps everyone alive and curious for more inquiry. Some leaders have filters and that they want to hear what they want to hear. However an excellent leader is someone who listens to differences.
I think people with much skepticism are a pain in the neck but very important to discourse!! Gary