Shut up, listen and lead.

28 07 2011

I was talking the other day to a friend of mine (let’s call her Alice) who’s a newly minted CEO.  She’s been involved in her business for a long time, and she knows the company inside and out.  But Alice recently learned that if she wants to develop as a leader, it’s sometimes best to keep that knowledge to herself.

Not long ago an employee approached Alice with a sticky issue.  Alice quickly sized up the situation and told the employee how to handle it.  The problem was, the employee didn’t want Alice to solve the challenge – he wanted to show Alice that he had already thought through the issue and that he had a solution to recommend.

“As soon as I finished giving my instructions, the employee got very quiet,” Alice told me.  “It turns out that he was going to recommend that we do exactly what I told him to do.  By jumping in with instructions I made the solution my own rather than his.  He was disappointed because he had missed a chance to show me that I could count on him to make good decisions.”

When you’re in charge it’s easy to think that your role is to tell people what to do.  It isn’t…your role is to make sure that you get the most out of your people.  Alice realized that by quickly mandating an executive solution she had missed a more important opportunity – the opportunity to let the employee shine and encourage a culture of problem-solving rather than problem escalation.

It’s easy to confuse leadership with telling people what to do.  Sometimes the best way to lead is to just shut up and listen.  You might be amazed where people will go without being told.

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