In 2010, child prodigy Adora Svitak took the stage at TED to deliver a speech entitled What Adults Can Learn From Kids.
Svitak’s intelligence and idealism shine in the video, and her notion that classroom education should be a two-way street between teachers and students rings true, at least on a basic level.
The education system is one structured on conformity, and a student’s success is defined by how well they can make the popular argument in their work. Unsurprisingly, that attitude has leaked its way into many businesses as a result.
From the first recruitment interview to the eventual promotion into management, employees often carry with them the fear that to develop a career and succeed within it, they must play it safe. They must nod and shake their heads at the right times, and never risk speaking up if their thoughts on a matter are unconventional or stray outside the culture of the workplace.
It’s the way they have been programmed to operate, and as leaders, it is easy to fall into the trap of assuming everyone is open and honest with you. The truth is, they’re probably not.
So how do we overcome this? Here are a few ideas:
Be Open: Find as many ways as you can to facilitate employee strengths. Set one-on-one meetings in which your role is as an enabler of their capabilities so that they have every opportunity to express their feelings. Don’t just have one meeting; have many over an extended period of time. They’re likely to start small, but once you’ve proven a willingness to listen, they may start suggesting broader ideas which could be of benefit to the entire business.
Be Direct: Remain open-minded within the context of your company culture. Set clear guidelines regarding what is and isn’t suitable. When you are direct, so too will your employees be. Beware mixed messages and hyperbole; a major fault of leaders in this scenario is when they start telling employees that they are brilliant and their input well respected, only for their ideas to be swiftly rejected or lost in a shroud of uncertainty because you’re not willing to be direct regarding your decision.
Be the Example: Advocate for the team, and remain engaged with them. Whether you’re a manager, a director, a president, or a CEO, demonstrating a clear willingness to take ideas up the ladder. The courage to disrupt the status quo will make a significant difference, no matter the outcome of any singular scenario.
When you demonstrate your trust for them, they will reciprocate. When you expect of them, they will retaliate.
They will back down, or they will leave.
26% of high school students in Australia choose not to complete their schooling for this same reason: alienation. These children think differently, do differently, and that is simply not allowed for. Don’t make the same mistake with employees who can offer something outside the box, if only given the chance to do so.