Your Staff are Smarter than You


OK. As an experienced leader reading that, you may have spat out your morning coffee.

Wipe down your computer screen and take a breath.

It’s understandable. You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and you’ll be damned if someone with less experience is going to tell you what to do. Your team are there to be delegated to.

You’re the boss, right?

Well, it doesn’t really work like that. You see, you’re not managing a 1960’s ad agency, Don Draper. Management styles have evolved in line with culture. You were responsible for the recruitment of your team, and it’s safe to presume that you brought in the best people for the job.

So let them do their job.

The truth is, together, they’re smarter than you. Much smarter.

It’s known as collective intelligence.

How do you take advantage of this? It’s simple.

LISTEN to them.

“But I do listen!” you cry (hopefully in your head so that your team don’t think you’re descending into a mental breakdown).

The thing is, everyone thinks that they listen to people. No one ever holds their hands up and says, “Hey, I’m a crap listener.”

But what are the signs that you’re a leader who’s bad at listening?

1) You talk first Bad listeners tend to want to get their point of view across first. They’re impatient. They speak first in meetings, put their point across and expect everyone else to buy into what they’re saying, without taking on board anyone else’s view beforehand.

2) You give advice I know what you’re thinking. I’m only trying to help! The thing is, until you’ve got all the facts, chucking unsolicited advice around doesn’t help the person in need. Trying to fix a situation comes from a well-intended place, but the speaker isn’t asking you to fix anything. Often, they just want to be heard.

3) You ignore emotion OK, so we all have a Moaning Mavis in the office. It’s easy to think, shut up, Mavis, you old goat. There are people worse off in the world than you. But that’s not to say Mavis doesn’t have the right to feel negative emotions. Expression of emotions is actually a positive thing.

4) You plot your responses We’ve all done it. Before a meeting or call, you plan what you want to get out it. The things that you want to say. The problem here is, your focus on your own objectives in the conversation can cause you to dismiss what others are saying, often subconsciously.

Sound like you? Don’t panic, Pete. It’s not too late to change your listening style. Here are some tips to help you combat the above:

1) Talk last The next time you go into a meeting with your team, purposely be the last to speak. Waiting to hear all viewpoints before you voice your own is what smart leaders do. This does two things: firstly, it enforces the fact that you’re listening to your team’s opinion; it makes them feel valued. Secondly, it allows you to adjust your point of view based on the thoughts of your team; sometimes it can take hearing the views of others to realise your stance isn’t on the money.

2) Empathise Don’t give advice for the sake of it. Instead, take a neutral stance and empathise with the person, even if you don’t agree with them. Try to understand what they’re saying, and take some time before coming back to them with a measured response. It’s difficult to do, but it’s a sign of a great leader.

3) Clarify and confirm Rather than interrupting with your opinion or advice, ask clarifying questions. It’ll make your staff member feel appreciated, and allow you to fully understand what they’re trying to say. In the long run, it’s better for the both of you.

4) Wing it Don’t overprepare before meetings, calls or conversations. I know, it kicks the old ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ adage in the shin. It’s the kind of advice that gives a sales department night terrors. But conversations are fluid. The don’t need rigid structure or a script. Setting goals is fine, but don’t let it take your focus away from truly listening.

Listening is an underestimated skill. It’s the real force behind the art of communication. And you know what?

Most people are really bad at it. The trick is being able to recognise that you are, and working to change it.

As the leader of the business, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all, allow the perfectionist in you to take over, and forget to listen to the people you hired.

But your people are your most valuable asset. Together, their ideas will take your company to new heights.

Open your ears. As a leader, it’ll be the best thing your ever do.

If you enjoyed this, check out my article,’Struggling to attract the next generation?‘.

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