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Listen Up Boss, this is what makes you a Great Leader!

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer” Bruce Lee

Do you feel like you need to have all the answers? Most people do.

This need was ingrained in us from a very early age: Remember when we were in school and the teacher called on us, we had to know the answer. The right answer. And we were expected to have ALL the right answers, all the time, for years… All the way through school and university. We’re expected to have the right answers on aptitude tests. Skills tests. Job interviews!

And remember Dr. Gregory House on the TV series House? House had a great medical team around him and yet it was always he who came up with the answer in the end to save the patient and be the hero. What a misanthropist, cynic and narcissistic leader he was. Great entertainment but far from what needs to happen in reality.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a boss is to come across as if you have all the answers. If you’re a leader with all the answers, it means you don’t listen to your staff

It’s impossible to have all the right answers. And pretending to have all the answers is stressful. It’s lonely. It’s draining. John is a CFO leader for a major corporation. A very clever operator with years of experience. John always felt he had to have all the answers. He wanted to be helpful to his team he said. He often felt forced to “stick to his guns,” even in the face of conflicting evidence from his team. When John reached out to me for guidance, he told me that he was frustrated and was suffering from stress, anxiety and fear that he’d be found out. Sometimes he even hid the correct answer to save face, which certainly didn’t do his conscience, his confidence, his team or his company any good. John was actually sending a powerful message to his team that:

  • I’m smarter than all of you
  • Even though you may have deep knowledge and expertise, I don’t need to waste my precious time seeking out your ideas
  • I don’t need your help
  • All I really need from you is to put your heads down and do what I tell you.

This generated alienation, disengagement and learnt helplessness from his team and left John isolated and he and his team ineffective. Sound familiar?

People won’t buy into a vision that’s been imposed on them. Nor will they go the extra mile attempting to implement a solution or plan for which they don’t feel any sense of personal ownership and that doesn’t incorporate their own knowledge, experience and expertise.

Leadership is about being willing to place the needs of others above your own. Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest. Effective leaders understand the difference between “coming in with the answer” and “coming in with a plan for how we’re going to figure out the answers together.”

What people are looking for is a boss who is genuine and candid, who values the members of his/her team, respects their ideas and expertise, and who is willing to listen to suggestions before deciding on a new direction or course of action. If you are a leader or aspire to be a good leader, listening is a key ingredient to becoming effective at what you do. Listening and asking questions will propel you above others who believe they should have all the answers!

People do look to their leaders to provide guidance and direction – that’s what leadership is all about. It’s about motivating people to do things that they otherwise would not have done. To accomplish that, you the leader need first to paint a picture of a future that the majority of people feel excited about and are willing to commit to working toward. Then you need to lay out a process that the team will follow to allow that vision to be accomplished. It’s about winning the hearts and minds of these people in your care so that they will feel fully engaged, motivated and committed to becoming the best they can be at their job and give 100 per cent to achieving shared goals by the implementing plans that they have had a voice in shaping.

To do this effectively, you must listen and empower your team. Make it clear upfront and before you ask people questions, that they are not expected to have all the right answers all the time, either. You must create an environment that people feel comfortable to take risks. If your employees think they’re supposed to have the right answer, they will feel disempowered and won’t speak up. In contrast, when your employees know they’re not expected to have the right answer, then being asked a question feels more like an honour. Like you value their opinion and insights. Like they’re being invited on an exploratory mission and are key members of the crew.

Here’s how to put Listening & Empowerment Leadership into practice:

Imagine a problem has arisen and you as leader have called your team together:

  1. Simply describe the topic/issue….being careful not to offer any answers or opinions
  2. Ask for their input by asking empowering dot-connecting questions like:
  • What do you think happened here?
  • Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
  • What else would we need to know to really understand this?

3. Acknowledge and appreciate the awareness and insights…..and the further questions that arise organically from this process

When you ask your employees for their thoughts, insights and intel you:

  • Build camaraderie, teamwork and collaboration
  • Show respect and trust
  • Gain access to the other information you may never have known, and
  • Energise your people and your business
  • Help them become superstars at what they do
  • Teach them to self-direct, self-correct and go above and beyond regularly

Some people think leadership is about being in charge and having all the answers, about being the most intelligent person or the most qualified person in the room. The irony is that it is the complete opposite. Leadership is about listening and empowering others to achieve things they did not think possible for the team, the business and for themselves. Leadership is about pointing in the direction, articulating a vision of the world that does not yet exist…..then leading and coaching others to insure that vision happens. A good smart, well-informed, emotionally intelligent leader knows that their own success is determined ultimately by the insights and efforts of those they are responsible for leading.

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