Each week, I do a great deal of reading. I am constantly scanning for new ideas, insights or perspectives. Sometimes, all I discover is repackaged material from the 80’s or 90’s. Other days, I discover something that is good food for thought.
Recently in the March-April 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article called “Bursting The CEO Bubble: Why Executives Should Talk Less And Ask More Questions” by Hal Gregersen, the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and a senior lecturer in leadership and innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
As he writes, “Although CEOs are charged with recognizing when their firms need a major change in direction, their power and privilege often insulate them from information that would help them perceive looming opportunities or threats. No one wants to tell the CEO of problems much less that he or she is mistaken.”
Based on interviews of 200 executives, Gregerson found that senior executives acknowledge this problem and yet are unsure of how to solve it. Still, the author found a few executives who had developed creative solutions to living in the “good-news cocoon.”
Some of these solutions ranged from seeking out honest feedback from a diversity of constituents to participating in situations “off the beaten path” where they are “unusually uncomfortable.” This then requires them to ask better questions and discover new insights which ultimately may help them to “detect early weak signals of impending market shifts.”
For me, there was one section in the article that was very interesting, namely the author’s suggestion that CEOs and, from my advantage point, all senior executives need to learn to be quiet. As he writes, “This is not typical behavior for CEOs, who are generally expected to be in broadcast mode, delivering words of inspiration, explanation, and unambiguous direction. A.G. Lafley, two-time chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, likes to say that his job is to keep repeating for people what the mission is and to keep it “Sesame Street simple. That is the default setting for CEOs for sound reasons.” This reminds me of a Fast Company magazine interview of Ron Heifetz back in the 90’s where he said that “leaders often die with their mouths wide open.”
Gregersen argues that leaders have to switch from transmitting messages to receiving them. As he continues, “No surprise, then, that each week Lafley asks himself, “What am I going to be curious about?” as a reminder that strategic insight demands deep listening born of equally deep curiosity.”
Being quiet does not equal being checked out. Being quiet means being focused enough to receive new insights and perspectives from a diversity of people. This will not only take leaders outside their comfort zone but also outside the “isolating bubble fueled by position and power.” When we are quiet and when this quiet is based on the desire to seek new insights and perspectives, then it is a most productive opportunity.
So, this week, I encourage you to read this good, new article and to start asking yourself the fabulous question “What am I going to be curious about?” Being quiet and curious can open you up to whole, new worlds of opportunity.