I don’t know everything. (I know, take a moment and sit down while you ponder this astonishing fact.) My staff doesn’t know everything, either. But put us together, and we can accomplish some amazing things.
Here’s the truth: We leaders tend to stand in our own way a lot of the time. We think we know best, we’re reluctant to muddy our vision with someone else’s ideas, and we’re afraid that if we indulge our teammates’ whims, they’ll walk all over us. But if you don’t occasionally get some brutal honesty from your staff, you’ll never innovate, improve, or become anything other than you are today. And what’s the point of that?
Getting a Wake-Up Call
The “squeaky wheel” approach has always worked wonders on me. Although it’s annoying as hell, that’s not the only thing that makes it effective. The more I hear about an idea, the more it grows on me; persistence starts to make me think there may be some merit behind a suggestion, and I simply don’t understand it yet.
My staff once deluged me with recommendations that I grow our business model and expand into areas I’d flatly rejected in the past, such as paid memberships for our free eBook site. I was hesitant to do so, but I eventually let my staff try their ideas, in case I was wrong. Yep, you guessed it: I was.
While sometimes I’ll (internally) roll my eyes at suggestions, if someone voices an idea enough times, I’ll usually let him try it out. We all have to learn and grow through our own experiments. (The key is to avoid throwing real money behind some of the more lame-brained ideas that wander across your desk.) I aim to foster an environment in which people push for progress through freethinking and innovation – and you should, too.
Why You Should Listen
If you refuse to consider the fact that others may have valid suggestions, you’re probably not giving your staff adequate ownership of their tasks – and you’re truly missing out on their expertise. Secondly, you don’t know everything, either. (Yes, take another moment and ponder this. I’ll wait.)
I was once told that if two people were the same in a relationship, one wasn’t necessary. No one needs a “yes man” backing up his every word. New perspectives can be extremely beneficial and help you see things you haven’t noticed. Tell your ego the following: Taking a short-term hit by allowing co-workers to outshine you will eventually heal that bruise once your company prospers from your co-workers’ great ideas. And then you will look like a genius. It’s a win-win for your entire company if you can leave your ego at the door and let others talk while you listen.
Make It Easy on Your Employees
No one wants to be the one to tell the boss that his touring trampoline company idea is dumb or that his breath reeks of stale coffee. Therefore, make it easy for your staff to give you the truth you need to hear.
Encourage honest feedback, and don’t dwell on who’s to blame if something goes wrong. Let them know you’re all in it together. If I (or, ahem, anyone else) screw up at our office, we try to resolve the issue as efficiently as possible and move on. If this environment exists, you’ll be more likely to earn trust.
One good way to create a problem-solving mindset in your company is by requiring employees to come up with their own suggestions for improvement when they locate problems. You don’t have to necessarily use their initial ideas, but showing them that you’re thinking about the problem and valuing their firsthand suggestions can go a long way toward establishing trust. It also pulls everyone away from a negative focus (the problem) and toward a positive one (the solution).
Take It Seriously
When you’re responding to your teammates’ recommendations, detail your thinking. Ask further questions to determine whether the ideas are legitimate ones you can pursue. If you don’t think they’re feasible, explain why they’re not. You don’t have to write an essay debunking the suggestions, but a few bullet points can pinpoint the problems you’re encountering. Say, “That sounds possible, but have you thought of A, B, or C?” or “I don’t believe this will work because of X, Y, and Z.” Your staff may have counterarguments that move their ideas into “consideration territory” – or they may not. (As we’ve established, you don’t know everything, so what could it hurt?) Regardless, this move will keep the honest feedback flowing both ways.
If you’re a dedicated leader, you want to see your business thrive under your leadership. This doesn’t mean that every great idea has to come from your own lips. Seek out suggestions from your staff. Your willingness to listen to their criticisms and ideas will eventually convince them that you’re the smarty pants you’ve always considered yourself to be.