Sometimes we think we need the answers to any and all questions that people throw at us. Leaders may consider it their responsibility to have all the answers. But our own experience shows that such broad expertise isn’t always necessary or desirable.
Those who challenge us to learn, to achieve more, are often the most engaging people. We remember the schoolteachers who pushed, the coach who encouraged and the mentor who expected the most from us.
Discovering and creating solutions for ourselves is more fun, more creative and more engaging because the challenge respects our own abilities. Our thoughts are noted as important; the trust implicit in the challenge makes us feel valued.
A leader who sets goals and targets but recognises that the way to get there needs shaping by the team is more likely to draw out the commitment and effort required to reach those goals. He or she will inspire the tenacity and loyalty necessary to deliver great results.
The rediscovered art of conversation
Knowing when to instruct and when to initiate discussion needs experience. Co-creating answers with the right teams and communities often generates better quality solutions that the teams can then execute. This means that they feel ownership for their work so not only is the solution better but so is the speed and quality of implementation.
So leaders need to explain goals, high-level strategy, and the reasoning behind decisions. But involving employees to discuss the right approach will create better engagement, and prompt congruent behaviours.
This boundary between setting the strategy and the execution of process is important and difficult to manage. It is compounded by the fact that sometimes leaders are chosen because of their ability to deliver. In other words the behavior rewarded by promotion may not be the behavior necessary to deliver in the new leadership role.
Ideas can come from anyone at any level of experience; frontline staff may know exactly what’s wrong with current ways of working. Leaders need to be open to hearing new ideas, and complaints and making sure that people feel heard. Quite obviously, conversations and requests for input need to be authentic. There is nothing worse than being asked to contribute only to experience hollow gratitude and no genuine consideration.
So don’t be a clever clogs – you are smarter if you know the right questions to ask and how to listen to the answers.