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Loaded Questions

Loaded Questions

I have learned in life that there are just some questions and answers that are best to avoid.  Of course we all know from basic party etiquette to avoid politics, religion and controversial topics in certain situations like a family reunion, but the questions I am talking about are not nearly as weighty and can come out of nowhere.

They are seemingly innocent in nature, but can still pack a wallop if not handled with care.  I am talking about the “do these pants make me look fat?” or “what do you think of my new headshot?” variety of inquiries.  Depending on who is asking and who is answering these types of Q and A’s can cause a wide range of reactions.  In the role of answerer one is never quite sure if the questioner wants an honest response.

Lately, I have noticed a new genre of the loaded question in the national workplace.  Prominent CEOs of large organizations are starting to publically ask their internal and external stakeholders, “How am I doing as a leader?” or “What do I need to know that you aren’t telling me?”  There is even a television show in which high-powered bosses go undercover to try to get these answers from unknowing employees.

We have always had mechanisms for evaluating leaders.  Boards, shareholders and investors have never been shy about voicing their views on corporate leadership, in the political world constituents make their thoughts know at the polls, and in the non profit sector leaders answer to a board and the community.

But now it seems leaders are more engaged in getting out in front of these established forms of accountability and asking for feedback both of the positive and negative variety, but they are not sure if they are just asking loaded questions that are difficult for those around them to answer with true candor.

I read with interest the recent open letter from the President of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker.  He was sharing his insights and thoughts on his his first year at the helm of the foundation and in a point of reflection he revealed that his single biggest fear was he was not hearing enough constructive criticism from those around him.

Most effective leaders know that active listening is critical to the health and longevity of any endeavor or company.   How many times have you heard of a president of an organization launching a listening tour?   I even have an email address devoted exclusively to the art of listening to our community- and it gets a good bit of action.

In Walker’s letter, he expressed that although he was listening he was not sure that people actually felt comfortable to tell him what they really think.

Trust me, I don’t think the president of the Ford Foundation needs any advice from me, but I was tempted to pick up the phone and tell him that I was not experiencing a similar issue, and to give it some time.

Three years into my listening tour, I have found that residents in Southwest Florida are passionately willing to share their feelings on what we are getting right at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and even more willing to provide feedback when they think we are getting it wrong, and everyone on our team from board members to staff are willing to hear what they have to say.

I am thankful for this, because I think real progress and positive change occurs in both our successes and our failures.  I actually learn more from my failures, and when people around me are willing to share openly about how they view our work I find we learn together.  We have important issues that can only be solved by working collectively and the tough Qs and A’s are an important part of the process.

At the end of anything I write, any words I speak or programs I launch, I continue to urge the community we work for to provide feedback.   It seems that people are more willing to share their identity when the comments are positive but I find myself wishing that more of the naysayers would step out of the shadows so we could speak directly.

So consider this my open letter, let’s keep the conversation going and not shy away from honest answers to the loaded questions.  If you want to change the world from this corner we call home please reach out to me. I’m still listening. [email protected]

Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!