Anecdote: In a previous life I had a particular boss who, despite his years of experience, was not a very good leader. In meetings with him he would “listen” to what I had to say but frequently I couldn’t get a reaction from him. Most often he’d say something vacuous like “let’s talk about that another time” or just “okay”. Occasionally, he’d say nothing at all. Silence.
My error: I let him get away with it. I should have said something like “dude, you owe me some feedback ..any feedback …something, anything, good or bad. Let me know I exist”. Out of deference, I didn’t. My bad, never to be repeated.
The fallout of this whole thing was a decrease of interest and effort on my part. If my thoughts are not valued by my boss, then I have no reason or incentive to try harder.
I wasn’t the only one. This happened across the company and as a result we had a very mediocre company (See 8 Indicators of a Mediocre Business for more on that topic).
Back to present day: Do a search for “leadership and listening” and you’ll get tons of blog and articles proclaiming its virtues. It makes sense, we all know that good leaders do a whole lot of listening. Really good leaders will respond a certain way. Consider:
There’s a problem and resolving it is assigned to Stan. Stan develops an idea to address said problem and presents it to his boss. Its not exactly what the boss was looking for so he thanks and acknowledges Stan for his idea but quickly say “well, this is what I think we should do” which may or may not include his ideas. While this may expedite resolution to the problem, it does nothing to help Stan develop his problem solving skills.
The better course of action is to point Stan to better solutions by subtly challenging him with questions like:
- So Stan, tell me a bit more about how to came to this conclusion? Help me understand your reasoning?
- What other courses of action did you consider?
- Is this something that you have encountered before? What have you drawn from past similar experiences?
- Who else did you talk with in developing this idea? What did they offer?
The net result of this dialogue will, inevitably, identify the strengths and weaknesses of the original idea as well as develop a few new thoughts worth investigating.
Importantly, this approach helps to GUIDE Stan towards a better solution without dictating it.
While this approach may take more time and effort, Stan will learn from this experience and his initial ideas in the future will be much better.
Leadership: Listen and then guide.
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