The other day I was watching a quick video about the importance of listening from Simon Sinek. I loved what he had to say. He uses an example of a leader walking into a boardroom and saying, “Here’s the problem, here’s what I think, but I want to hear your ideas. Let’s go around the room.” Sinek said that at this point, it’s too late. He goes on to say, “The skill to hold your opinion to yourself until everyone has spoken does two things. First, it gives everyone the feeling that they have been heard, and it gives everyone the ability to feel that they have contributed. Second, it gives you the benefit of hearing what everyone has to think before rendering your opinion.” The goal is to keep your opinion to yourself; something many of us struggle with these days.
There is great value in learning when to talk. Just because we have an opinion doesn’t mean we need to be the first to share it. When we think that we need to share our opinion first, we alienate everyone around us, or we create an environment that doesn’t welcome free thinking and sharing. Think about it. When the boss enters the room, states a problem, shares what their opinion is about solving the problem, and then opens up the floor to other’s ideas about the problem, how many people will actually want to say something different from the boss? The agenda has been made clear; the boss sees a problem and wants to solve it their way. There really isn’t any discussion to be had, as the boss has made their intentions clear. A potentially productive meeting turned into a table of head nods and compliance.
When we keep our opinions to ourselves, ask questions, and listen earnestly to what others have to say, we are given information that can help us make a more well informed decision. Simon goes on to say, “The goal is to really keep your opinions to yourself. Simply sit there, take it all in, and the only thing you are allowed to do is to ask questions, so you can understand what your people mean and why they have the opinion that they have.You must understand from where they are speaking, why they have the opinion they have, and not just what they are saying.” When we learn to engage and invest in those we lead, keep an open mind, and listen intently to what they are saying, we create an environment that allows people to safely share ideas and opinions without feeling the need to just follow along.
A good leader recognizes that they are not the smartest person in the room. Rather, they are willing to learn from the expertise of others. This goes back to the understanding that leadership has nothing to do with titles and positions. Being the CEO doesn’t mean you are a good leader. Being a CEO and listening to the people who are in the trenches, while keeping your thoughts and opinions to yourself, is a start in the right direction. Some of the most highly paid individuals in a company or organization may lack the knowledge or experience needed to problem solve. Sometimes the lowest, hardest working individual just might hold the secret to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles. The question we should be asking is if leadership is willing to stop and listen to what their employees think and understand from where they are speaking and why they have the opinion they do?
The greatest accomplishment of any leader is knowing when to speak. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean it needs to be shared, neither does it mean that it is the right opinion. It would behoove leadership to listen to their staff and gather their ideas and opinions before making a decision. Thinking our opinion is fool proof doesn’t make it so. We must keep an open mind and be willing to listen and change our understanding of a situation. Please don’t misunderstand me, this doesn’t mean we remove common sense, nor am I suggesting we become pushovers and allow others to direct our decision making. Rather, we should be willing to listen to others before we make a decision. We must use common sense in our decision making and base our decisions on factual evidence rather than overly charged emotions.
Be willing to listen. Try and understand why people think the way they do and from where they are coming from. Be open minded and willing to change course if needed. Humble yourself as a leader and practice being the last to speak!
As always, stay humble and serve well!