An Essential Step to Leading Smarter

Leadership is a process of influencing others to willingly work towards a shared purpose.  Part of that job is communicating what that purpose is.  Too many leaders go about this the wrong way.  

Consider Fernando.  A senior finance director for a large multinational based in Mexico City, Fernando has always been in leadership roles for more than a decade. 

I had the opportunity to observe and coach Fernando while he was working with his team.  The first thing I noticed is that in team meetings, he does 90% of the talking.  The questions he asks of the team are narrow and closed.  The team sits passively, and waits to for everything to be spelled out.   

After the meeting, Fernando and I spent some debriefing what had happened.  Fernando got to the heart of his behavior patterns:  his underlying beliefs.   He told me,

I think it's my job to figure everything out.  I guess I've always thought I had to tell people exactly what to do. If there was ever a problem, it was my job to solve it.  

Fernando wasn't leading--he was bossing.  He was treating his team (many of whom were managers of teams themselves) as kids.  As we discussed the matter further, Fernando finally owned up to the root of the issue:  he was afraid of letting go of control.  He really didn't trust people to do the right thing on their own.

As a result, Fernando was working hard--and not smart.  He had created a culture of compliant doers, rather than committed thinkers.  The team's morale - and results - suffered as a result.

There were many things that Fernando could do to make changes for the better.  However, there's one change that would give him the biggest return on his effort:  Listen First.

It's infinitely easier to influence others if you have a connection with them.  They need to feel that you truly have their best interests at heart.  The foundation for creating that connection?  Asking them deep, open-ended questions.  Listen to them.  Give them time and space to share their perspective. 

When you ask questions and listen, it shows  you care--but it also does so much more.  Your act invites people to lean in and step up, and take ownership of the situation.  Your willingness to hear what they say sends a message:  Their ideas and solutions are not only welcome, but they're encouraged.  You'll inspire them them to take action.  

What steps can you take to make sure you listen first?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.