There are times when I have to tell a senior executive to quit talking so much and to start listening more. Over the years, I have learned that when a senior leader starts talking a couple of things take place. First, everyone else stops talking. Next, people focus on telling the senior executive what they think the senior executive wants to hear. Furthermore, these same direct reports over time will just wait and let the senior executive do all of the thinking and talking. Then, they will simply fill out all of the orders that comes from their leader’s mouth. This results in the “just tell me what I need to do and I will do it” syndrome.
Marshall Goldsmith in his wonderful book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, notes that many leaders get caught in the trap of “adding too much value,” i.e. they have an overwhelming desire to add their two cents to every discussion. The result is that people just quit participating and wait.
The greatest gift a leader can give is the gift of listening. When they quit answering all the questions and telling people what to do, they are on the right path. Then, they can pay careful attention to what people are actually saying and thinking. As a result, they can learn vital and often mission critical insights into what is happening and why.
So this week, practice listening more and talking less. It will be a challenge but it is worth the effort.