20/20 Truth In 2020

Luring quality information up from the front lines in 2020.

InspectionEvery leader wants the uncensored insights of their folks of what  before making big decisions. Getting to that truth, however, does not come naturally.

“Sunflower Management” is a term for the thinking error triggered simply by knowing the boss’s opinion. It may be “Yes-Man” syndrome driven by career ambition or it may be genuine admiration for the CEO’s instincts; either way, people migrate toward their leader’s opinion and preference.

Sunflower Management devastates the quality of information… particularly the insights from further down in the organization as each layer is influenced by the layer above it. No wonder CEOs regularly report a feeling of isolation from what’s really going on at the front lines!


“A Rose By Any Other Name” provides counter-measures to combat Sunflower Management from direct reports. One key practice is “The Boss Talks Last.” This simple practice (or not so simple for those bosses who have a hard time holding back) forces lower ranks to reveal their true thoughts before hearing your impressions.

But to hear genuine perspectives of those deeper in your organization, you must strongly encourage every level of management to apply this practice. Otherwise, you hear only your direct report’s opinions parroted by their people.

This also demands that the lowest ranks reveal their perspectives first. Only then does the next level up outline their thoughts, and so on up the ranks.

Dealing With Resistance

Realize that effective candor is hard-won. Every layer of management gets nervous about what their subordinates might say in front of the next level up.

Contradictory opinions might be perceived as confusion in their division. Worse, some dirty laundry might be exposed. (And to be fair, just how comfortable are you when anyone from further down in your organization is speaking to your boss or board?)

Leaders must be proactive to overcome subordinates’ fears. That means positive and public recognition when you see them wince at something their underlings says. Offer genuine congratulations in front of their peers for cultivating an open climate in their organization!

Unfiltered news from the front lines is a precious commodity. And as is typical in leadership, the boss sets the standard …and gets only what he or she deserves. What will you deserve in 2020?

© Dave Wittenberg