We all face the drive to “get it done” and usually it means “get it done right now!” But sometimes in the rush to mark the next item off our “to do” lists, we stop listening. We stop engaging our partners – and we stop listening to constructive dissent which is often the last best defense we have against really getting it wrong!
Great leaders find teams to support them that are not afraid of telling the boss “you are wrong – and here is why!”. Constructive dissent helps us find risks, improve our soft spots and generally come up with better solutions. If you are a leader you need to hear “no” sometimes. You need to hear team members express their reservations and work with you to resolve them.
So – what are the steps to get all this done? Unfortunately, it is not one of those objectives that you can just do and check off your list. It may even require a sea change in your relationships with your team. Think of this more as “healthy eating” vs. going on a diet. It is a choice you have to make for the balance of your professional career. But there are some approaches that can work:
- Make people feel safe to dissent. You have to stay connected to them personally and professionally. They have to believe that you expect to be wrong sometimes and that you want their input. And they have to believe that expressing a dissenting viewpoint won’t mean they will be frozen out of future discussions. Yes – it takes time – and it can even sometimes slow down a decision. But that is not always bad.
- Really engage people. Tell them your pain and let them offer ideas. If you are the leader, you have to take the initiative. Ask, then ask again, then go visit them in their workspaces and ask again. Let them know you rely on them to participate and that all of our jobs are about achieving an outcome and not simply doing the next thing.
- Listen, listen, listen and then listen some more. Don’t assume you know what the person will say. Don’t pre-judge the person’s comments. Stay open – engage in active listening – ask questions and probe. You need to hear the message and your team member needs to believe you want to hear it.
- Be sure your team is aligned to goals and objectives. No team member – not even the most senior or entry level associate should think his or her job is about “do this then do that and then I am done”. The job has to be about Service Our Customers and Improving Quality, etc. The goals have to be big, and everyone has to believe that you are personally committed to achieving them.
Finally, I have a real life learning about this when I was younger – much younger! I was a multi-site manager implementing a new project. I was very excited about “my” solution because I thought it was very creative and very cool. I was rolling it out to my team on a teleconference, when I was all done – and asked for questions – I didn’t get any. Except… one very young, very new manager who did not have much of a background – suggested a solution that was almost the opposite of what I was proposing. He wasn’t quite right – but after I listened to what he had to say – we ended up changing the solution significantly and ended up with a much better outcome and I learned a lesson about listening that I will likely not forget.
SVP of Corporate Services