Everyone thinks differently.
Alright, I know right now you’re saying to yourself “well, yeah, of course everyone thinks different. You don’t need to tell me that”.
Except I do. If you’ve got your own business, or are a leader or manager in a similar capacity, it can be easy to forget that while your employees support your goal for the organisation, they’re likely to have different ideas about how to reach it.
Promoting the sharing of these ideas is critical to a successful business, even if those acted upon are few and far between. Yet leaders often don’t take the time to consider them, preferring instead to rely on their own perspective.
That’s the easy way forward, and sure, sometimes the good comes easy. But the best? The best requires leaders to consider all options presented in order to ensure the right decision is made every time.
So, how can leaders ensure they’re not tuning out to great ideas within their business, and foster an openness to developing and challenging any and all ideas, while ensuring their vision and authority are maintained?
Let’s take a look.
Remember those meetings of old when you’d sit in a conference room chair for so long it felt like it had become part of your body? When the person at the other end of the table ranted about something that had nothing to do with you, while you sat there regretting your choice not to have a second coffee that morning?
We’ve all had those days. But how many of us have used our knowledge of the pain and torment such pointless rituals embody in order to turn them into something of value?
The meeting is one of the most under-utilised, empowering tools in the workplace. It is a means of insight, reflection, and progress, and one that brings together colleagues in a professional, structured manner like no other.
By bringing the entire staff into a single location, leaders can use meetings to enable and champion the great ideas that inspire excellence in a company. Here are a few tips for making that happen:
- Recognise accomplishments. A great way to start any meeting is by highlighting ideas or achievements that have been brought to your attention. Through this, your employees can see what you respond to, and be reminded that you recognise their effort. Make recognising accomplishment a habit, and you provide them with the motivation to work harder and the courage to express their own ideas more freely.
- Connect with employees. Idle gossip is one of the biggest detriments to a successful meeting (and to your authority as a leader), but it’s important to remind employees that you care. In her article The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss, Stanford University’s Emma Seppala breaks down a range of studies that proved “leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill”. Why? Because employees trust them. And the more trustworthy they prove to be, the more the people around them will be willing to approach with new ideas.
- Diffuse any early signs of conflict. The best way to deal with conflict is to squash it before it develops. Failure to do so will distract from what matters. Reinforce the importance of working as a team, consider the differing parties’ views, and make a decision to ensure the task is kept on track. If conflict comes in the form of rejection for a proposal, make sure the reasoning is explained honestly so that the employee doesn’t take it personally.
- Establish a think tank. This is the most important, and least applied, element of any meeting. If you’ve been handling the other points well, this is the stage in the meeting where everyone should be sharing ideas on how best to move forward. Pitching of ideas should not just be directed at you, but everyone in attendance, though you ultimately have the final say.
Don’t forget that this ultimately is not about you, but what’s best for the business. That alone should be the reason you say “yes” or “no” to any idea.
Lead from Without
I’ve just explained the importance of effective meetings, but let’s get one thing clear: that’s not an excuse to go meeting crazy.
You should keep meetings to an absolute minimum. In fact, the best leaders keep all in-depth project talk to a minimum.
These leaders lead not from within, but from without.
They do not micromanage. They do not take to the trenches. They manage and maintain from the outside, looking in from far enough away to see the scale of progress (or to send an e-mail or two if visibility is obstructed) without becoming bogged down in the minutia.
That can be difficult. You started your business because you had a passion for the work you’d be doing. However, by taking on a position of leadership, you have a purpose which far outweighs the importance of feeding your passion.
Once again, it comes down to trust. Crack the whip too often, and employees will say and do anything to avoid a lashing. Then, one day, they’ll leave.
So what happens when these processes fail, and an employee openly dissents because they feel they aren’t being appreciated?
It’s crucial that we find the source of this discontent. Is this just a difference of views, or an underlying problem on a much larger scale? Do they have the company’s best interests at heart, or do they secretly feel that they can do a better job of leading than you?
Conflict resolution is a weighty skill to acquire, and the nuances that come with varying industries, the scale of companies, and the organisation’s hierarchy play a big part in deciding how best to handle such issues, but perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is acceptance.
Do not presume. Do not get defensive. Simply accept that there is a differing of opinions, and that it must be resolved, not disregarded simply because you’re the boss.
A leader unwilling to listen is not a leader at all. They are a dictator. And nobody – nobody – respects a dictator.
Leadership takes courage, but great leaders – leaders that can consider themselves The 8 Percent – are the truly brave. They recognise that employees exist to support their goals rather than serve them. They demonstrate the trust that ascends an employee’s job beyond a means to a paycheck and turns it into an extension of their Great Work. And when conflict arises, they have the patience and respect to listen to an employee’s concerns rather than take their discontent as a challenge to their authority.
Are you that kind of leader? Are you The 8 Percent?