The president of our association was about to make a mistake. So, as a member of her board of directors, I responded to her e-mail by sharing my concern and suggesting that she solicit opinions from other board members. An hour later I shook my head as I read her e-mail "asking" for input. I place the word asking in quotations because the president didn't really ask for opinions, she sold her's. Then I thought, how often do I do that? How often do I ask people for their ideas, but consciously or subconsciously actually communicate/sell my strong preference? How often do you do that?
Do you see the subtle danger here? If people perceive that we are not approachable (i.e., not open to new, creative, contradictory, or opposing views), they will stop approaching. When people stop approaching we lose touch with our environment. And that's very dangerous for any leader.
Two-time Pulitzer prize-winning historian and author David McCullough was recently asked by the Harvard Business Review how to become a better leader. His answer? Become a better listener and hear what it is not being said. The importance of listening and approachability was also demonstrated by Professors Amable and Kramer, who analyzed 12,000 reports from 238 employees, all whom kept careful diaries of their work days for four months. These researchers found that employees were more creative and productive when their leaders were open to new ideas, cooperative, and collaborative. In other words, leaders who listen well and are approachable not only stay in touch, but their employees perform better.
The lesson from great leaders is clear: if you want to be in touch with your environment be open to those who disagree with you. George Washington had Jefferson and Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln had his cabinet filled his with those who ran against him in 1860, and after the Bay of Pigs fiasco President Kennedy made sure he had those with opposing views at his table. Who do you have?
Leaders who refuse to listen to differing views are not strong enough to doubt. Their weak faith leaves them feeling vulnerable around those who disagree with them. Their black and white thinking has not matured to embrace shades of gray. They don’t understand that being open to ideas is not the same as agreement with those ideas.
I invite you to take off the mental blinder that states “your reality is the reality.” I encourage you to solicit opposing views, applaud those with unique perspectives, and speak last during most discussions. These three techniques can help you monitor your environment. What other methods do you use to stay in touch?
Keep on eXpanding,