Recently, I conducted a series of leadership workshop in a food processing company. Separate workshops were presented in both, English and Spanish. Each of the groups was composed of managers, supervisors and team leads. As a facilitator, I avoid presenting leadership workshops when the higher-ups are sharing the same training room with those who report to them. I find that those who report to their team leaders are afraid to openly communicate their concerns because it may give the impression that they’re whining and complaining about them or their jobs or unhappy with their team leaders who are sitting in the classroom with them. In such a setting, it becomes difficult to get the participants to open up and share their challenges, opinions or suggestions.

Most of the participants in both groups had never received leadership training. As the workshop progressed, it became clear that although most were ready to listen to the key learning points presented, few were willing to participate. Those who did contribute were mostly managers who expressed their objectives, concerns and expectations of their team members and, the supervisors who made a valiant attempt to say the right things and not offend anyone, especially their higher ups.

I asked the group:

  • “What are some of your major challenges?”
  • “What are some of the issues that really push your buttons?”

A few answered with one word: “communication.” When I asked them to elaborate and prodded them further to open up, the supervisors began to share some of their concerns. It was obvious they wanted to avoid appearing confrontational. Slowly some of the hidden tensions was starting to escape the training room and more was revealed.

I decided to address the Spanish speaking team leads, those who report to their supervisors. Up until now, they had been deafeningly quiet. Regardless of their different departments, they were all seated together. Perhaps they felt safer as a united group. I approached them, and asked them if they would like to contribute to the conversation and express their workplace issues. They were hesitant in answering. I asked if they were afraid to speak up. They nodded in the positive!

  • What are you afraid of?” I asked.
  • “Getting fired, being singled out, disciplined, or ridiculed!” they answered

I shared their answers with their supervisors who were surprised and unaware of how their behaviors were unintentionally creating a culture of fear. Other team leads began to relate their challenges and issues. Finally, we were getting somewhere. The moment of truth resonated with everyone in the room.

It became obvious to everyone in the room that the Spanish speaking team leads did not have the self-confidence to make independent decisions because they feared the harsh consequences from their bosses if they “failed”. They felt safer as order takers. Ironically, the main complain of the managers and supervisors was that their team leads lacked the initiative to make independent decisions and therefore had to be micromanaged.

It is truly is astounding how we can change our behaviors when we can honestly see the reality of the situation from a different perspective, from the other’s point of view. Our lenses often become cloudy and our perception false when we form our own conclusions and consider them to be rock solid facts.

At the conclusion of this workshop, the groups were asked:

“What specific actions are you now willing to take?”

Among the many action plans they committed to pursue, both managers and supervisors pledged that they will begin to provide more support and recognition to the Spanish speaking team leads and to invest in their growth and development.