One of my favorite things to dig into with business leaders is the organization’s feedback loop. Specifically, what they are doing to ensure they have a pulse on their team members. Not just productivity, but buy-in, culture fit, emotional health, etc. Most immediately point to their performance reviews or one-on-one meetings. Everyone seems to love the 360-degree performance review these days. (For the record, if you’re an employee participating in a 360-degree performance review, be careful, most managers have fragile egos and can’t handle your constructive criticism. Your fears are legitimate.). Anonymous surveys are better, as long as there isn’t an undercover employee in IT telling the CEO who said what (I’ve seen this and I wish I was kidding).

Maybe your feedback loop is fairly robust and you provide ample opportunity for your team to share their perspectives. You feel pretty good about where things are going and you’ve put together a fairly solid team. There is quite a bit of (mostly great) information out there about how integral active listening is to strong leadership. It seems simple, but it’s true. Good leaders are usually good listeners, even if they weren’t born naturally bent to bend an ear (looks in the mirror). Jedi level though? The best leaders I have ever seen have trained themselves to listen for what their people aren’t saying.

A good friend of mine dropped by my office last week with a unique request. He walked in carrying a 100-year-old bamboo fly rod and two vintage reels. My friend is not an angler so I was pleasantly surprised thinking that finally, we were going to get to do some fishing together. After catching up for a few minutes he said he needed help with something. Over the weekend he had helped a widow from his church move out of her house. As a thank you for his time, the old woman gave him a box of old fishing gear that belonged to her husband. He went home and did some research, discovering that some of this equipment could be worth quite a bit to the right person. Turns out a comparable bamboo rod had recently sold on eBay for upwards of 5k and this one looked to be in incredible condition. I blurted out, “you need to take it down to ____ and get it appraised.” His response? “Matt, that’s why I’m here. I need you to get it appraised for me.”

He continued, “You see, as a black man, if I walk into ____ they will assume I stole this stuff and best case give me an unfair appraisal, but worst case they may call the cops on me. I have nothing to hide, but right now that’s the last thing I want to be dealing with.” I could feel my chest caving in. I knew that his assessment of the situation was accurate.