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Listen More

May 29th, 2021

Managers and leaders often fall into the trap of drowning out their reports’ voices with their own. Almost everybody has dealt with or will deal with a micromanagey boss at some point in their career; the loud-mouthed, anal, pointy-haired boss is a stereotype for a reason. Loud leaders cause all sorts of problems for their organization:

  • Their reports will invariably resent them, reducing engagement and hurting retention.
  • The best ideas, from those closest to the ground, won’t get a fair shot.
  • The leaders egos will balloon after seeing their own ideas win out over and over again, creating a feedback loop where the micromanagement gets worse and worse.

Leaders should be quiet instead of loud; they should spend more time listening instead of speaking. Leaders have a responsibility to their reports to hear their ideas, and a responsibility to their organization to amplify the best ones, no matter who they came from.

Listening to your people starts by learning about them. I think there are a couple important answers you should know about each report:

  • Does your report process new information quickly or slowly? If they’re a slower processor, they may come up with ideas or counterpoints after a meeting has concluded, and you should encourage them to to voice those no matter the timeframe.
  • Are they comfortable speaking up during meetings? If not, you may need mechanisms to help them get their opinions shared: you could explicitly ask them to share their thoughts during meetings, or follow up afterwards on Slack to get their take.

Here are some other tactics for the listening leader beyond knowing your reports:

  • Every 1:1 (which should be happening weekly) should include time for your reports to bring up whatever’s on their mind. I like to frame this time as a shared brainstorming space, with no bad or incomplete ideas.
  • Make sure to attribute ideas to the person they came from, and if you’re not sure, call that out too. It’s absolutely soul-sucking to have a great idea and voice it, only to watch the credit for it get taken by a peer or, even worse, a superior.
  • As a leader, it’s your responsibility to make sure meetings are productive. That means creating space for quieter people to share their thoughts, and protecting meetings from dominant personalities.
  • Don’t share your own opinions too early—we’re all human, and humans tend to have a hard time disagreeing with their leaders.

Organizations with listening leaders tend to have better outcomes: they’ll produce more ideas, do a better job discussing their trade-offs, and more often choose the right option. In the long term, employees will be happier and more engaged, and it’s easier to recognize and promote talent. So leaders, remember to listen.

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