image of a coffee cup“I want to know what you know.”

One of my early career managers used this line regularly when engaging with her team members. She was genuine in her interest in our take on problems and opportunities, and you could almost hear her mind working as she processed the information and compared and contrasted it with her own views.

Her employees genuinely appreciated her effort to see a situation from multiple vantage points. Instead of assuming we had to sell the boss on our ideas, we approached discussions on problems and issues as opportunities to share knowledge and build upon the ideas of others in our group.

This boss wasn’t concerned about being right…she was concerned about working together to find the right way forward. Whether it was re-framing a problem or developing a new solution to a sticky situation, the sharing of ideas and insights invariably had an outcome that felt right. It was more than a compromise, it was a mutual effort to construct a better outcome. It’s no surprise that she continues in a long and successful career as a senior leader with a long line of alumni team members who draw upon her example in their own leadership roles.

Too many in leadership roles are more concerned about being right than finding right. The best leaders recognize that it’s all about working with team members to design the way towards right.

6 Approaches that Great Leaders use to Guide their Teams Towards Right:

1. Effective leaders bite their tongues and ask before they tell. Nothing shuts people down faster than a boss who’s always quick to process on a situation and opine. Once the boss’s opinion is out there, the ability to pursue divergent directions or approaches is all but dead.

2. They encourage others to frame problems and opportunities, gently using questions to help people think through the completeness and clarity of their viewpoints.

3. Good leaders use questions as teaching tools. They liberally use “How would you… ?” or, “How might you…  ?” or, “What if… ?”to help individuals and groups view issues from all sides and to help them move from  situation assessment to approach development.

4. They step-in when needed. Effective leaders recognize the need to sometimes insert boundaries or parameters to help move individuals and teams from divergent thinking to convergent approach development.

5. Effective leaders know how to spot the traps. They are sensitive to the decision-making and cognitive biases that bedevil groups and individuals and they help everyone recognize and strive to move beyond those very human issues.

6. They practice “seek first to understand” management. Good leaders understand that better solutions, more engaged employees and a healthier working environment are often the outcomes of “seek first to understand” management.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald offered: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”  How well do you function when the ideas of your team members differ from your own? If that makes you uncomfortable, you’ve got some work to do. If you’ve already discovered the health benefits of helping others achieve right versus you as the leader having to be right, keep it up. Your employees will appreciate you and your boss will thank you for the great results.

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