The following is adapted from It’s Never Just Business.
If you’re an organizational leader, here’s a truth I’d like to share with you:
Leadership isn’t about coming up with the best idea or solution to a problem.
Leadership is about helping your team come up with the best ideas.
Early in your career, you had a ton of ideas. You took risks, advocated for your ideas, solved problems, and moved the organization forward. You were the go-to person, and you were rewarded for coming up with and advocating solutions.
Then you got promoted to manager—now what? The shift can be difficult, so to help you deal with it, here are three actions you should adopt as a leader.
#1: Solicit Ideas from Your Team
A leader should have ideas, but a leader doesn’t shove those ideas down their team’s throat. You want to solicit and listen to your team’s ideas, not sell them on your own.
The biggest mistake a leader can make is advocating their own ideas and perspective and selling team members on why their ideas are wrong.
If you do this, your team will stop bringing ideas altogether.
Remember, your team isn’t wrong simply because an idea conflicts with one of your previously held beliefs. We are predisposed to push back on information that challenges our beliefs, but that doesn’t make someone else wrong.
You want your team to push back on your ideas and advocate for their own. You want them to feel ownership; that is where the value is created.
The idea is to solicit their ideas and share yours and then, with sincerity, explore the possibilities. Together you can create things with more value than you would have been able to create alone. Leaders pull the team together and aggregate their value by helping them define their roadmap to a shared goal.
#2: Learn to Listen Effectively
In the article “Barriers and Gateways to Communication,” written by Carl R. Rogers and F. J. Roethlisberger for the Harvard Business Review, the authors discuss the communication barrier as the inability of humans to listen to people inquisitively.
We listen to evaluate, so anytime someone shares information, our mind tries to determine if it agrees with each point. When we are asking and answering our own internal thoughts, though, we’re not listening or trying to connect with the message.
We’re just trying to decide how we want to respond or challenge. Even if you decide you agree, you might start listening again, but you missed the opportunity to understand.
Having a team is the biggest blessing of being a leader, but learning to listen to them is hard. Having a team means you don’t have to be the only one ideating and innovating anymore. It’s a massive weight off your shoulders. You get to combine IQs, creating exponential value. When you bring a group of intelligent people together with diverse perspectives, you improve on ideas, identify roadblocks, and increase engagement.
Note of caution: I am not talking about building consensus.
I am talking about sharing ideas, creating space for other people’s solutions, listening and learning from different perspectives, and quickly moving to execution.
My formula: Prototype quickly. Test. Fail. Prototype. Test. Fail.
Develop an idea and get it out there. Let everyone challenge it; don’t worry about it being perfect or gaining total consensus. Instead, ensure everyone is heard, drive toward an outcome, prototype, and assess the results. If the solution you implemented doesn’t work, take it back and prototype again. If you wait for consensus, you’re too slow and not as agile as you need to be to win.
#3: Make Everyone Feel Safe
Dwight and Suzanne Frindt, coauthors of Accelerate: High Leverage Leadership for Today’s World, once shared an amazing concept with me.
Consider two circles that overlap in the middle. In one circle, you have people who are born connectors; in the other, you have the challengers.
Where they overlap is the leadership zone.
Connectors navigate the world by connecting with others. They don’t want to disrupt the connection and are uncomfortable saying no. They are conflict-averse. Everyone loves them. And they struggle to help others remain accountable to their commitments.
Challengers, who make up only 17 percent of the global population, are wired to say what they feel and drive results. They can be perceived as assholes and therefore aren’t effective at motivating or getting great results from others, but they get shit done.
To be a great leader, connectors need to move toward the challenger zone, and challengers need to move toward the connector zone. The magic takes place in the middle, the leadership zone. To be a great leader you need to speak the truth candidly and with sensitivity, allowing people to feel safe enough to hear you.
For more advice on the traits of great leaders, you can find It’s Never Just Business on Amazon.