This week alone, I’ve had countless friends, ex-colleagues and loved ones tell me of the embarrassing statements made by their respective chiefs about how ‘in hindsight’ they should have been better. Not just in terms of diversity, might I add, but across the board when it comes to talking to their teams about their decision-making. In my experience, this is particularly true in agencies, be it redundancies, pay rises, promotions or even how to handle a grievance. How on earth can brands expect agencies to lead them into the future when their own leaders are stuck in the mud with them, I wonder.

Somewhere, we have confused Management with Leadership. Commanding instead of inspiring and telling instead of showing. Why are we so paralysed by the inability to have adult-to-adult conversations with our teams? And why, in a time of brutal transparency, is the irregularity of what we choose to discuss openly and what we choose to hide growing? Hindsight tells us we should be better at talking to our teams honestly, candidly and respectfully.

I have a few hunches about why we’re not…

1.  We’re embarrassed – Embarrassment is a self-conscious emotion that arises when how we feel and how we should respond or act publicly are disconnected. We are most likely to be embarrassed when we believe we have not lived up to what society asks of us. We’re embarrassed about the decisions we have made (or have to make), embarrassed about the blind spots in our perspectives and, most of all, embarrassed that everyone is looking at us for how to behave and we are getting it wrong. 

2.  We ignore our instincts – Years of working in hierarchical structures where the most senior person in the room holds all the power and say has meant we’ve learned to suppress our gut feelings and let the Boss, however flawed or biased, lead the way. We’ve assumed that the most senior person already knows whatever we have to say and hasn’t said it, therefore it must not be important or relevant. We don’t want to look insubordinate or worse, stupid.

3.   We’re scared to ask for help – We feel there are social costs attached. It will look like we have a weakness and if we were competent, we wouldn’t need help. By simply asking, we’re telling others that we’re ignorant, weak and perhaps even lazy.  

The combination of the above is why we’re still talking about systemic change not happening quickly enough. Our current leaders have an inability to accept the power of constructive dissent. Unfortunately, many millennials and especially Gen Zs are looking at you exhausted, waiting for you to move on so they can do things better.

How about you don’t go down like that? What if you actually asked for help and addressed all this before your successors arrive? So many notoriously bad decisions have come from clones echoing their leaders. Failing to ask good questions has been the downfall of management teams worldwide, but we’ve forgotten that asking the right questions builds our own emotional intelligence and according to Harvard-Wharton research team, under the right circumstances, asking for help can actually increase perceptions of your competence.

Finally, brand, culture and leadership are intrinsically linked. They’ll rise together or fail together. Beyond your own personal value system, should lie your brand or organisation’s values. If these aren’t clear enough or human enough to guide your leadership team on how to behave (in a crisis or in general) then, simply put, you have some work to do.

Asking for help doesn’t have to hurt, falling from your pedestal probably will.