Is open criticism the sign of a great leader? Should you be able to tell your boss “how you really feel” about a recent proposal, staff change or strategic business decision?

Yes. Yes. and…. yes!

In an era of low employee engagement and morale, fears of lack of management transparency and an overall feeling of “I hate my boss,” you would think that this is a rather strange proposition. Why would anyone even think of roasting their leader in public, let alone to their face? Usually CXO types and business leaders are revered for their impact on an organization or feared simply because of the titles that have been bestowed upon them. Everyone knows that there are two people in business that are always right: 1) your customer and 2) your boss…right? Not quite (on both accounts!).

But as much as we talk about the importance of top-down leadership, what does it look like when a CEO or business leader actually listens to the employee rumbles – and does something about it? It looks a bit like this:

Apple-CEO-Steve-Jobs-Keynote-Fashion-Evolution

 

Steve Jobs was a man of many innovations but judging by the fact that he wore the same outfit for over 12 years, fashion was not one of them. In fact, it has often been said that Jobs wore the same jeans and turtleneck for years because it saved brain space for more important thoughts like why we only need one button on our smartphones. But the story behind the how and why of the turtleneck actually goes deeper than just conserving brainpower. It was a matter of being booed.

“[Steve Jobs] called Issey Miyake and asked him to design a vest for Apple, Jobs recalled, ‘I came back with some samples and told everyone it would great if we would all wear these vests. Oh man, did I get booed off the stage. Everybody hated the idea.’” Excerpt from “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson.

The story goes that after visiting a Sony site overseas in Japan and learning more about the uniforming process and how uniforms helped promote unity towards the brand, Steve Jobs decided that the Apple team needed uniforms. However, the reception was so bad that he decided to keep in touch with the uniform designer and asked him to create his own “uniform,” the infamous turtleneck which he paired with jeans and sneakers for the majority of the rest of his days on this Earth.

The takeaway message from this story is that listening is the key to sustainable leadership through growth and change. Every so often, leadership should be in the position where they are requesting honest feedback about something, getting the feedback and then doing something about the results. Steve Jobs may have single-handled saved morale or employee relations just by listening and responding to masses. What if a talented developer or marketing strategist ultimately decided against applying to Apple because of their weird uniforms? Either Jobs asked himself a similar question, or he simply cared what others thought. Or both.

How refreshing would it be to be able to speak your mind freely in the workplace and know that it didn’t fall on silent, deaf or powerless ears?

While your mind takes you away to dream about that answer, here are some leadership traits that stand out in the kind of leaders you can boo:

  • Leaders who don’t take themselves to seriously all the time
  • Leaders who solicit feedback on a consistent basis and ask for it directly
  • Leaders who put people first
  • Leaders who can infuse passion and profit
  • Leaders who consider alternatives

If you trust a person enough to tell them that you disagree with them and why then that is a great relationship. If it happens to be your boss then you have an awesome leader.

Are you afraid of a good boo?