"People in my department don't have the luxury of escalating our concerns to our executives. Should one of us try, our exec would first say "Who are you exactly?" followed immediately by a note to one of his direct reports saying "fire that bozo for not understanding chain of command."
"If you speak up about the quality of our services, you are labeled as not being a team player. That is the surest way to end your career."
"I want to address a morale department in our team, but my boss just says that if people are not happy they should find other jobs. I see real problems but she just sees whining."
These are all comments that I've gathered over the past few months from leaders in different organizations. They all expressed strong resistance to bringing concerns to company leaders, out of fear that those concerns would tarnish their careers or get them in trouble.
The consequences? Good people start clamming up when things go wrong, out of fear their efforts to fix it will blow up on them.
Here is the tricky part, as an executive, sometimes saying "no" to an idea can have unintended consequences. You say "no" because it's not a good idea or it's not the right time, and then the person assumes that you are angry with them, or that they've been judged harshly, or that they are being penalized for speaking up.
How to be an Approachable Executive.
1. Listen Actively and Reflect Back what you hear: "I hear that you are concerned about the quality of the product, and you'd like to make changes before we send it to production, is that right?"
2. Share your Perspective: "OK, here is what I think.....
3. Appreciate their honesty and intentions: "Although I don't agree with what you want to do, I do appreciate that you are thinking about quality, and I appreciate that you care about doing a good job. I hope you'll keep thinking about these things because they do matter."
4. Redirect them if appropriate: "Is there a reason you didn't go right to Sally with this concern? I'm a bit surprised that you skipped that step and came to me."
Don't make the mistake of dismissing people when they have genuine concerns. You may not choose to act on those concerns, but it doesn't mean that you can't honor their intentions and send the message that caring about doing good work is welcomed, not penalized.