How can I speak truth to power without getting fired?

"How can I push back on the CEO or C-suite and tell them some home truths about an issue, decision, or proposed strategy without losing my job?"

In July 2013, Asiana Flight 214 crashed on final approach to San Francisco International Airport-of the 307 passengers and crew on board, three died and 180 were injured.

The investigation found several factors caused the crash, but many believe Korean cultural deference was a significant contributor.

As Flight 214 approached the runway, the captain, who had thousands of hours of experience but relatively little on 777s, was flying, assisted by a co-pilot, and a check captain was monitoring their activities.

The captain made a series of mistakes and the approach became increasingly chaotic. But, as the situation deteriorated, neither co-pilot nor check captain voiced concerns until six seconds before impact. By then, it was too late.

Deference exists in many corporate environments, and although the consequences of failing to speak up are much less apocalyptic than dysfunction on the flight deck, they can have far reaching and damaging consequences.

Senior communications executives must speak truth to power. It may not be comfortable, and it may result in spirited discussions, but it should be done.

No one should claim to be infallible. But effective professional communicators need to acutely understand what will resonate with a wide range of audiences, including customers, colleagues, shareholders, regulators, and legislators.

When you bring your judgment to bear on issues that affect the reputation of your organization, you should develop a network of senior execs that can help you in your role and provide a sanity check if you become concerned about something that could be negative for the company.

They can also help you consider how to approach the CEO or C-suite and position yourself to best advantage when giving your advice. You need cogent reasons for the position you’ve taken, to explain clearly why you feel the way you do and what the potential consequences of ignoring your advice might be.

Being wholly negative is a big turnoff, so think about alternative approaches-if you don’t think there are any, say so.

The best advisers are partners. The most successful senior execs actively seek input from people they respect and recognize they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. As a senior communicator, you should aspire to be viewed by the CEO as a partner who brings valuable insights, skills, and good judgment.

That’s not to say a poor decision automatically means someone has bad judgment. People who have never experienced a setback are less likely to believe they are fallible. But if the pattern is one of mistakes, it is reasonable to question the individual’s judgment.

Telling people things they don’t want to hear is invariably challenging, but being too worried about your own position to perform an essential part of your role suggests the organization and person running it are fatally flawed - or you are in the wrong job.

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