In my experience in working with churches and ministry organizations I find many where it is not safe to speak candidly about issues that exist. I am not referring to undiplomatic communication or attacks - just the ability to share honest opinions without being attacked, censored or privately (or publically) shamed. This is nearly always a result of an insecure leader who is unable to deal with candid dialogue and takes any disagreement as a personal attack. And it is a sign of insecurity and low Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
When this happens, there are a number of negative consequences. First, the leader loses major respect among his or her staff. Their defensiveness is seen for what it is - insecurity. Second, when staff cannot talk openly about issues they will end up talking to each other in private or even with others. People need a place to talk. Third, the unresolved issues that cannot be put out in the open fester and become major irritants to those involved and even minor issues can become large issues in the absence of the ability to talk. Fourth, mistrust flourishes! And mistrust destroys otherwise good teams.
Here is a question to leaders who do not invite candid input: Why are you afraid of being questioned or having issues raised? It is not as if they go away in the absence of conversation. In fact, they get larger! It is not as if ignoring the issues solves anything - they just squeeze out somewhere else. Why would you prefer that these topics get discussed behind your back rather than in your presence so that you are part of the discussion?
Another question. What is it inside you that resists hearing what others think when it might be critical of you or something you do? You may not agree with their analysis but what keeps you from hearing it? As a consultant I hear from staff on a regular basis that they cannot be honest with their leader. Does this not hurt the leader as much as it hurts the team? It really makes no sense at all for the leader or the team. I would rather know what people are thinking than not know.
Those who don't listen are not only unhealthy emotionally but have something to prove and something to lose - in their own mind. I prefer to live with a nothing to prove/nothing to lose attitude because that is freedom. If I am wrong in some area, so be it. If someone disagrees with me it is OK. If there is robust dialogue over some issue I can be fine with it. Such a stance prevents discussions from being had in the wrong venues with the wrong people and it fosters the very best ideas in a safe atmosphere. It makes for a healthy team as well as a respected leader.
One can gauge the health of a team and a leader by how many issues they cannot discuss as a group. The more there are the unhealthier the team and leader. And it always ultimately comes back to the leader because teams know where they can and cannot go - that is always a function of the openness of a leader. Some of the largest names in Christian leadership are some of the most closed when it comes to candid discussion and feedback. What does that say about their health?
To make it personal, how open or closed are you? I ask myself the question regularly. I want to lead well.
(Written today from Berlin, Germany)