Monday, February 02, 2009

Leadership 101: Stop Talking and Listen

This one might be subtitled “Miscommunication? It's Your Fault, Not Theirs.” That or “Make Your Default Answer ‘Yes’, not ‘No’.”

Let’s take as a given that your team is comprised of average or better folks. If not, then you’ve got other issues you need to address that are outside the scope of this series. With that ground rule in mind, if you’ve hired good people, then pay attention to what they’re saying. If someone on your team brings up a point, they’re raising it for a reason, and furthermore, since you’ve invested in getting solid folks, they’re likely bringing up for a reason that will benefit the team.

If one of your team members is talking to you, take the time to listen to what they’re trying to tell you. If you’re not understanding what they’re saying, then you need to work harder – as a leader, it’s your fault if your team can’t get something across to you.

Read that again, because it’s important. Communication problems between you and your team are your fault. There are two aspects of this, both on your shoulders: First, you haven’t invested enough time with your team to learn their communication style, or to educate them on how to better communicate. Secondly, you’re not working hard enough to hear what they’re trying to tell you.

As an example, a friend of mine repeatedly ran into roadblocks when trying to pitch crucial upgrades and changes to his company’s infrastructure. The changes were utterly necessary to remove roadblocks hindering a large group of really talented folks who were constantly delivering value to the organization. My friend didn’t have the best communication talents and sometimes delivered his requests in a blunt, unclear fashion, but what he was trying to say was critical to the success of the organization. The organization’s head, instead of making the effort to clear up the communication issues, repeatedly fell back to a default answer of “No.” The boss’s failures to expend the effort to work through the communication blockages resulted in all the requests getting turned down. This ended up causing more blockages and slowdowns with his group – something you really don’t want when you’ve spent time and money to hire top-notch talent. Furthermore, my friend got extremely frustrated and took a pretty good morale hit since he couldn’t get any traction in trying to solve problems.

Your team needs to believe that you’re an advocate of theirs. Your team needs to believe that if they raise issues to you, you’ll invest the time to understand their problems, and that includes spending time to break through communication barriers with them.

Your team shouldn’t expect that they’ll get their every wish, but this falls back on your shoulders too. If you’ve worked to clearly understand the team’s requests, then you’ll be able to clearly communicate back to them the reasons why you may not be able to move forward with their request. Your team will have seen that you’ve take the time to hear them out and have put some conscious thought into your decision.

You have good people. Invest the time to make sure you understand what they’re trying to tell you.

Updated: Complete listing of articles in this series here.

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