When Building a Leadership Team, Shut Up and Listen!
Joyce is Co-Founder and President of Fredrickson Communications, a custom-training and communications firm that helps project teams design and build information and learning tools, such as eLearning courses and Web sites. Joyce can be contacted at [email protected].
Building a team of leaders has been the most rewarding and frustrating challenge I’ve taken on as an entrepreneur. It’s rewarding because I get to hear my own words coming from the mouth of a director. It’s frustrating because I have to watch that director slowly work through an issue for which I can so clearly see a resolution. I have learned that in order for me to be free from the day-to-day operations of my business, I need to shut up and listen.
As an entrepreneur, I love to have all of the right answers. In school, I was always that kid who raised her hand in class, eager to be seen as knowledgeable. Six years ago, when I started building my leadership team, I would always "raise my hand" when I was running meetings, as if I was the only person in the room who had the answers. I eventually started to wonder why the directors kept bringing issues to me instead of thinking for themselves. It turns out I never gave them the chance.
One day, during a routine meeting, it dawned on me that I might not be the only person with the right answer or best solution to an issue. I decided to hold back my comments so that I could hear how other people viewed the situation. By listening instead of speaking right away, I learned that the instincts of my directors were very good, but that most of them still needed guidance on thinking through issues. That realization led me to change my behavior and the way I approached delegation. I made it a point to help the directors gain perspective and confidence so that they could solve more issues without me.
Changing my behavior was, and is still, not easy. To stop myself from blurting out a solution while I wait for a director to think it through, I have to grit my teeth, sit on my hands or cover my mouth. Here’s what I do to ensure I do more listening than speaking:
I prepare a list of topics I want to hear about in advance.
I ask my directors about the topics. If I need to clarify with a statement, I start with "I understand that…" or "I’m getting the sense that…" I avoid stating what I think should be done, and instead ask for their opinions.
I look for signs of clear thinking, consideration of options and action steps. I assess the director’s judgment and whether he or she seems to know what to do and is comfortable following through.
I give feedback based on my assessment. Usually, I’m able to compliment the director’s thinking and proposed action steps. Sometimes, though, I need to say something like, "What’s stopping you from taking action?"
I ask another layer of questions to get at the director’s feelings.
I ask the director to tell me what he or she feels the next action step should be. It’s important that I hear how he or she understands what we’ve agreed to.
Finally, I ask the director if he or she would like me to be involved, and if so, how. If all goes well, the person is confident enough to handle the issue without me.
By following these methods to grow my leadership team, I’ve found that things run more smoothly. Because I’m able to keep my mouth shut and listen, I can cultivate self-sufficiency among my directors. This has freed me from being involved in the daily operations of my business, and I am now able to look at the bigger picture.