One upside of long-term experience in a role or across a company is the deep institutional knowledge you can build, which gives you a robust base of business understanding that can help to expedite decisions. After a certain amount of time in a role, you recognize when a new initiative mirrors one that previously failed,
One upside of long-term experience in a role or across a company is the deep institutional knowledge you can build, which gives you a robust base of business understanding that can help to expedite decisions. After a certain amount of time in a role, you recognize when a new initiative mirrors one that previously failed, or when someone makes a well-intentioned suggestion that reflects a lack of understanding around another part of the business.
Chances are that your tenure has also provided you with a leadership role, and people bring these suggestions to you in an effort to support the work you lead. You’re charged with bringing in more sales, or more conversions, or faster production timelines, or more partners – and you’ve asked your team for help. Of course, you’re also responsible for a host of performance results and have become accustomed to filing things as “no” or “go” at a pretty breakneck speed.
This junction of asking for help and then dismissing it is where your leadership may be falling apart.
I personally have fallen into this trap. After going through a 360-feedback leadership review some years back, I realized that my team was demoralized when they would bring me new ideas only for me to tell them all the ways that had not worked before, or why I didn’t think it would work today. In my mind, I was expediting the task of ruling on this suggestion. But in my employees’ minds, I was being close-minded and dismissive of their efforts to help bring new energy into growth initiatives. Ugh! It is still my natural tendency to make quick decisions, but I now understand how to temper that response to allow an idea to bloom under new ownership. Here are some tips to help you if you have the same tendency.
Ask Three Questions
When someone brings the next big idea to you, they are taking a risk. They are being vulnerable, engaged, and are showing initiative. This is exactly the behavior you want to nurture – so don’t shut it down with all the reasons it won’t work that may immediately pop into your head. There’s a chance that the person who is bringing the idea to you has already thought through these challenges, or has past experience that may bring a new solution that you had not considered.
Allow room for this opportunity to breathe using a Socratic method of questioning. Before you launch into your response, formulate three questions that prompt the person with the idea to answer your areas of concern. “How do you think we can reach this new market?” or “What value proposition goes along with this service?” or “How does this integrate with our existing product suite?” will help the suggesting person to think through business issues from your perspective while also prompting additional problem-solving energy. Who knows, perhaps they will figure out a challenge that has left you stumped to date.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is introducing a new business idea to you. They are nervous, self-conscious, and unsure. The worst thing you can do is to interrupt them while they are sharing their vision. It’s okay to prompt them with questions or to ask for clarifications, but never shut down the conversation before they’ve had a chance to share their full presentation.
One interruption can be the signal to your employee that they are inconveniencing you, or that you’ve already made up your mind, or that they are otherwise wasting your time. Honor their engagement by sitting through their presentation with an open mind.
Things Not to Say
Sometimes, people in positions of power steamroll others to protect or project a position of authority – one they may actually feel insecure about holding. This is when the worst behavior comes out, and some truly demoralizing statements can be made. On the shortlist of things to NEVER say to someone sharing a new idea with you:
“It won’t work.”
“You don’t have enough experience to understand this.”
There are iterations and variations on all of these, of course, but at their heart, all of these statements dismiss the thinking and value of the employee trying to contribute. Even if you’re thinking these things, hit mute. Use your questions to help the employee discover any flaws or holes you see in the plan. Then, take the time to educate them on that missing piece of knowledge to demonstrate your support of their continued learning and contribution.
We all have a lot to get done, and your quickfire decision-making nature has probably been a major contributor to your success up to a point. But when it comes to impactful leadership, you’ll often need to govern your own instincts in the interest of building up the team that ultimately will help you reach your goals.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.