Three Resolutions for Every LeaderBy Paul Niven
2013 is here, and many of us will be thinking about how we can change our lives for the better this year. Accordingly we will make a number of resolutions. For all of you leaders out there (and really, we’re all leaders in one capacity or another), here are three resolutions I suggest you consider, to improve your organizational performance.
1) Listen more: I’ve written previously about our tendency to be poor listeners (see “Are You Listening” at Senalosa.com), citing the sorry statistic that we listen at about a 25 percent comprehension rate. Two recent events brought this home to me on a very personal level. The first was a thirty minute so-called “exchange of ideas” meeting with the CEO of a company with whom I was considering a partnership. He spoke for at least twenty-seven of those thirty minutes, with no regard whatsoever for my input. Some exchange! More like a verbal tsunami. Not long afterward I was on the phone with someone who also graduated from the machine gun school of conversation. At one point, when I was able to squeeze a word into this ‘conversation,’ I mentioned the importance of listening in successful consulting engagements. He immediately broke in saying, “You’re right; I used to talk a lot, but now I mostly listen.” It was everything I could do to withhold my laughter. Not only is this behavior impolite, it’s counter-productive. We spend seven out of every ten minutes communicating with someone, and fully 45 percent of our time at the office is spent listening. If just a quarter of that information is getting through, think of the knowledge and productivity we’re squandering.
2) Connect the dots: The CEO of a utility company asked his workers why they get up at 2:00 a.m., go out in the snow and risk their lives climbing a pole to get the electricity back up and running. Not a single one said it was because of the extra overtime money he’d receive. Instead, they replied that they did it because of the feeling they get upon seeing that cascade of lights come back on across the community. They know there are a lot of happy people there, and that provides them with a feeling of deep satisfaction. That’s connecting the dots between a job and the outcome it produces for a customer, and it doesn’t take a power outage to produce it. What can you do to make that connection for your employees?
3) Question “expert” advice: I recently had the chance to hear a well-known business guru address an audience on a number of topics, including talent management and how to successfully negotiate change. His advice for talent? Hire all the 23 year olds you can because they’ll ask questions ‘older’ workers are too hardened to ask. Huh? This flies in the face of most thinking about maximizing human capital and harnessing employee knowledge. And it’s ridiculous to suggest that ‘older’ people don’t want to learn. Later, on the subject of change, he suggested that when people criticize the case for change ask them why five times and you’ll eventually get to something that’s embarrassing to them. I question this as well. Why would you try to humiliate someone to get them to support your change agenda? Surely there are better, more humane and dignified ways. There is so much advice out there these days, and in order to stay relevant and create attention for themselves in an increasingly crowded market, it seems some so-called experts feel they have to constantly push the envelope of accepted practice. However, in doing so their advice sometimes roars past the respectable label of iconoclastic and simply doesn’t fit with the reality on the ground. So listen to the experts (couldn’t resist another listening plug), but be sure to bring in your own unique blend of knowledge and experience when assessing their guidance and its relevance for your organization.