The ‘Yes Men’ Disconnect And How It Hurts Your Leadership

“Very few big executives want to be surrounded by ‘yes’ men.”

~Burton Bigelow

I heard a somewhat humorous account some years back about the Biblical story of David and Goliath. When the Israelites came up against Goliath all the soldiers thought was, “He’s so big we can never kill him.” When David looked at him he thought, “He’s so big I can’t miss.” It all came down to perspective. And in the end we know, David killed the giant.

One of the blind spots for leaders who have been around a long time in their organization is that they tend to be the ones with the greatest disconnect to what is really happening. And many a good and aspiring leader had rather tell the boss what he or she wants to hear rather than what they need to hear. Sound familiar?

But let’s be honest- many find it difficult to speak the truth for fear of negative repercussions, etc. And out of that fear, the truth is sacrificed for the expediency of the moment. As an aspiring leader yourself, what are you to do? Here are a few tips to navigate those treacherous waters.

Build relationships

That you want to speak truth to the leader in your life is noble. But you have to earn that right. And you earn that right not by being “right” all the time but by building a relationship where you earn that person’s trust. Until you recognize this you will always be afraid to speak up.

Be a team player

If you are going to build off that trust you must be a team player. By that I mean you must check your ego at the door and your motives must be genuine. It’s as you build up your leader that you build up your organization. If you have hidden motives eventually it will come to light. You’ll never build trust if your intentions are deceiving.

Stop being the gatekeeper

Leaders need perspective and people around them that will speak the truth. But that can’t happen so long as gatekeepers build walls that prevent all voices and ideas from being heard. If you truly care about your organization then you will welcome input and ideas from a wide range of people who can provide the perspective that is needed. Disarm the body guards and let your leader hear what needs to be said.

Be courageous and humble

Speaking the truth will not always be easy. It will require courage on your part and a dose of humility to say it. To that end, more times than not it is not what you say but how you say it that makes the difference. Most leaders want the truth, but not delivered with an arrogant attitude.

In the end, two things really matter: leaders need to be told the truth and have people surrounding them not afraid to do it. You are doing a disservice to yourself, the leader you work with, and to your organization as a whole if you do don’t. It’s a mark of your maturity as a leader when you learn to do it right and when you do everyone wins.

Doug Dickerson
Doug Dickerson
DOUG has been speaking to audiences in the U.S. and overseas for more than 30 years. Doug knows how to spin a story, make you laugh, and how to challenge your traditional ways of thinking about leadership. Most of all, Doug is committed to helping you grow as a leader. Doug is a graduate of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida and studied Clinical Pastoral Education at Palmetto Baptist Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. While his leadership expertise has its roots in ministry and teaching. His background also includes public relations and business. Doug understands the necessity of leadership development and why creating a leadership culture in your organization is critical to your success. He is the author of four leadership books including: Leaders Without Borders, 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders, Great Leaders Wanted, It Only Takes a Minute: Daily Inspiration for Leaders on the Move, and Leadership by the Numbers. As a speaker, Doug delivers practical and applicable leadership insights with a dose of humor and authenticity that endears him to a wide range of audiences.


  1. “politics by design” is what I find myself saying quite a bit. We design our work environments, our work structure, to promote up the ladder those that engage in politics. But, we can also design to promote collaboration and fair play. But because the politicians are in charge they find fair-play counter-intuitive and not worth while to support.

  2. No one likes to be told no, or to hear bad news. But, I found long ago that if you are the one delivering such there is a good way and a bad way to do it.

    Whenever you feel that a no is needed, it gets taken better if it comes with a suggestion as to a better way. Just a flat no indicates a negative attitude.

  3. Doug, great article. I wonder if many leaders would benefit from some training in receiving feedback so they can accept dissenting opinions even if they’re not delivered in the most politic way. Thanks!



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