I'm frequently in situations to observe senior corporate leaders, across a wide variety of industries and cultures, interact with their (often senior) employees, and the all-too familar one-way nature of these interactions always amazes and depresses me. Frequently, in fact, I'm embarassed by the profound silence which inevitably greets any effort to elicit a conversation with those assembled. Surely, no one in the audience wants to receive yet another "broadside" of corporate jargon, yet given the opportunity to ask questions, or raise issues, those gathered all too often remain mute.
What is it about the persistance of rank in the 21st century that leads to such situations? What must the senior executive be thinking of colleagues who have so little ingenuity/energy/interest that they cannot think of good questions; any questions? Why do we not realize, and here I'm speaking of both sides in these fractured convesations, that opinions matter, that ideas count, that we can only make our organizations better through the sharing of conflicting points of view? This is as much a failure of leadership as it is a failure of imagination. Confronted by silent colleagues, the leader has an obligation to resist the all-too comfortable retreat into shop-worn phrases, and, instead, to go after those who are silent and demand that they become contributors to the conversation. Both sides are failing here, and the silence is damning.