Are You in a Leadership Bubble?

Sabrina Starling Commentary

Are You in a Leadership Bubble?

Business owners can feel exceedingly isolated. Many confide they are concerned “people tell me what they think I want to hear.” 

As leaders, we can become isolated in a protective bubble created by extreme politeness, watered-down feedback and the avoidance of healthy conflict. This puts our businesses at risk because we don’t get the information we need from our teams to make critical decisions. 

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The danger of being in the leadership bubble is that we don’t know what we don’t know. Flattery and opinion conformity make us overconfident. We need the raw truth to make decisions that move our businesses forward. 

How do you know if you are in a leadership bubble? Ask yourself:

How many barriers do people have to talk with me? The more barriers there are, the more likely you are in a leadership bubble.

What can I do to make my industry uncomfortable? This is a powerful question that opens dialogue with your team, giving everyone permission to venture outside the comfort zone. 

How long do I wait quietly for others to answer my questions? Good questions make us think and require at least three to five seconds to respond. Quiet time is critical. Ask a powerful question, then place imaginary duct tape over your mouth as you wait for the response. 

The questions we ask determine the solutions we find. There is nothing worse than a good solution to the wrong question.   

I observe this frequently in my work with clients. For example, one owner recently told me he needed to find an office manager for his growing business. His question to me: “How should I go about hiring an office manager?” 

I could have easily given him recruiting and hiring strategies to find his next office manager. But I asked more questions so that I could fully understand the need.

As it turned out, he did not need to hire a full-time office manager, which his business would have struggled to afford, further compounding its cash flow issues. Instead, we determined he actually needed a bookkeeper for about 20 hours per month and an assistant to organize client communication and his schedule, which would also be part time. He decided to outsource both roles.

This one decision saved him thousands of dollars monthly on his payroll. Had we stopped short and focused on answering his initial question, he would have made a strategic decision that reduced his profitability, possibly for years to come. 

Other tips for getting outside the bubble:

Develop trusting relationships with external leaders from whom you can learn. Develop a trusted network of business leaders outside your organization from whom you can elicit feedback and receive unbiased opinions. These networks have tremendous value in reducing the isolation we experience as leaders in our companies.  Tap into these networks to help you brainstorm better questions to the dilemmas you face. 

Observe daily operations. Get out of your office and make it a regular practice to observe the day-to-day operations of your business. Experience your business as your client does. What do you notice?

Elicit and appreciate honest feedback. Even when the message is hard to hear, thank the person giving you the feedback. Acknowledge them publicly in meetings for giving you critical feedback that informs your decision-making. This sends a strong message to your team that it is safe to be straightforward here. 

If you are in a leadership bubble, remember that every bubble is unlocked with powerful questions.

Based in Arkansas, Sabrina Starling is the author of the “How to Hire the Best” series, founder of Tap the Potential LLC and host of the “Profit by Design” podcast. Get more resources and tips at