Years of research show that top-down declarations and being “talked at” demotivates people, discourages the expression of diverse perspectives, and stalls organizational learning and change efforts. This leaves me puzzled when, at least a few times a week, I receive emails promoting professional leadership workshops on how to say things in ways that will sound smart and compelling to others. Titles include:
Inspire! How to Deliver a Message the Sticks
Build Your Influence with Powerful Presentations
What to Say When the Stakes are High
Don’t get me wrong, words matter! Leaders need to speak thoughtfully and find ways to tap into what motivates others. However, I believe we place way too much emphasis on the ideal of “leader as talker” as an organization’s primary source of insight and inspiration.
Although there is certainly a time and place for smart, expressive leadership, in today’s increasingly networked and specialized world, rarely does a single individual have the necessary context, information, and experience to come up with the best solutions.
Twenty-first century leaders need to build a new set of muscles to help their teams have higher quality conversations. Going back to the gym is never fun. But, you may find that it’s time to bulk up in these four modern leadership abilities:
Get Comfortable with Not Knowing: It’s time to rethink your identity as a leader. This requires a profound shift in thinking about yourself as the smartest person in the room into a masterful facilitator of smart people who come together to create breakthrough solutions.
Frame Powerful Questions: Although you may not have the answers, you can frame questions from your unique vantage point – powerful questions intended to break through the noise, challenge assumptions, and open up new directions for creative thinking. Once you ask those questions, actively draw people out.
Invite Productive Disagreement: As a leader, you can make conflict a normal, productive, even playful part of being a team member. Normalizing conflict means showing people that challenging each other (including you) is welcome—even rewarded. At the same time it means de-normalizing behaviors (e.g., personalized criticism) that undermine respect and empathy.
Spot Common Ground and Gold Nuggets: In addition to fostering productive divergent thinking on your team, you must also be a keen listener, helping people converge on the best solution. This means synthesizing what you are hearing, highlighting common ground, and shining the light on particularly innovative ideas.
What muscles have you had to build in order to help your team members tap into their collective brilliance?
Image Credit: Oleg Laptev on Unsplash