As a successful business leader, you are probably smart, have a strong point-of-view on most things, and you communicate in a way that has others follow you. Whether realized or not, you may expect yourself to have an opinion on most all of the issues that arise in your organization and you likely believe that your responses are correct. In fact, you may not even recognize them as your beliefs or as your own point-of-view. Maybe it's just "reality," after all, you have been successful, right? Also as a successful leader, you have hired team members that you believe are intelligent, qualified and talented people. You have also hired vendors and outside partners that you also believe are talented, intelligent and reliable. So, the question is "how well and how often do you actually listen to these people?"
Recently, I was speaking with a colleague about a recurring experience with one of his clients on this very issue. This client hired him for his expertise and skills and also had him find an outside agency to bring a very deep level of specific expertise. This client claims to be very happy with both him and the agency. He speaks frequently about how much he enjoys working with all of them. Yet every time a recommendation is made, he challenges it. Even after the initial challenge is worked through, he challenges and/or completely rethinks any revisions. He often personally rewrites things rather than providing new direction for the team. Simultaneously, he often repeats, “don’t let me push you into anything,” and “you know I’m not an expert on this.” The reality is, he does push the whole team into exactly what he wants.
As the boss, how much can your team members really push back with you? And if they do, do you really listen? Do you ever change your position to their recommendations?
My colleague finally said to his client “you know, the group is feeling a bit deflated because it’s been really hard to actually move forward on things. It seems like you are never really happy.” The client was shocked. “What do you mean?” he responded. He literally could not see that his deeply held belief in his own superior knowledge and expertise on every topic was becoming a roadblock to progress, even though he was speaking as if he did know that.
In a way, he was right. No agency or outside hire could ever know his industry the way he does, but that's not what these people were hired to do anyway. They were hired to bring their expertise in to help him build his business. His “insider” perspective is costing him his objectivity about what these resources bring to the table and how new and prospective clients are thinking, including their motivations and their needs. He also fails to see the expertise of this team is to be present to the clients' and prospects' perspectives and deliver appropriate proposals and services. He is unable to really trust the people he is paying quite a bit of money to every month.
So the question is – as a leader, where are you like this example? Do you listen to your experts, both within and from outside your organization? Do you really trust anyone besides yourself? If you don’t, maybe it’s time to rethink those you have put around you? Are they really the talented, smart, reliable team you need? If they are, then it’s time to look in the mirror. What is it costing you to hamstring your experts? What are you really afraid of?