April 2014

Leader Blind Spots  (Part 4) Stop Talking

Welcome to the fourth segment of the series of six common leader blind spots I frequently see.  In last month’s newsletter, the focus was about letting go of the need to be the technical ‘expert’ and redefining value and success in a leadership role by ‘Silencing your Einstein’.

As a reminder, leader blind spots are those unproductive behaviors that are frequently invisible to the leader, but quite visible to their teams, bosses, and peers.

Stop Talking - Start Listening

Most of the leaders I coach will freely admit they need to listen better (and more often!).  What I don’t hear is an admission of the need to talk less.  And it stands to reason that if you’re listening, you’re not talking.   So the first step is to recognize your own ‘talking’ and ‘telling’ behaviors with your team.

Gavin was a classic example of a leader who felt that strong directions were the best approach to get the job done.  He feared  his team would be unable to perform without his direction and lots of ‘telling’. 

I asked him if he could stop talking in his next staff meeting and simply focus on listening to his team. He agreed to this experiment and decided to open the staff meeting with a few good issue-focused, open-ended questions. Then he listened. A few of his staff members told him it was the best meeting they had ever had. The team had an opportunity to discuss critical issues from their perspective. 

It was an eye-opener for Gavin, and it began his journey to loosen his need to talk and control.  He began to listen to understand more clearly the issues and challenges, and allow his team to manage the work.   As he continued to build his listening skills, his team became more productive, and their results were better and more innovative.

Asking (good) Questions

As Gavin learned to listen – he began to ask better questions, and to pause before providing any of his answers.   

Leaders intuitively know it’s best to ask employees to develop the solutions, but are caught between wanting to move quickly, and making sure the employees are doing things the way the leader wants.

The obvious benefits of asking good questions are the potentially fresh and powerful ideas that you’ll learn from your employees plus the development that will occur as your employees think and solve problems in new ways. Clearly the time it takes to go through the process of solving a problem through employee input and discussion is well worth the effort the next time a similar situation occurs. 

Exercise to Try

  • For the next few weeks, track your ‘talking’ style and identify how much telling versus listening and asking that you do.  Especially track your talking behaviors in your meetings.  If you are doing all the talking, you have likely unconsciously trained your people to wait for your direction.  Encourage the team to participate in the discussion and come to the next meeting with possible solutions or next steps.
  • Try asking one or two important questions in your next staff meeting designed to open the group to discuss real and perhaps invisible or underlying issues that may be preventing desired results.  If your team is not used to being asked open-ended questions, ask them to think about your questions in advance of the meeting.

Keep in mind - just a few simple shifts can make a big difference!

"Silence is a source of great strength." — Lao Tzu

Next month we’ll explore how to “Harness the hidden”.

Are you achieving the results you want?
The best leaders make simple shifts or practical changes for big results.  I work with leaders to create practical solutions to achieve real success. Let me help you discover what's possible. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details.

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