I recently had a breakthrough with someone I have led for a long time, someone who leads others inside our company.
This person has proven leadership capability. He has good character, cares about the well-being of each member of his team, and exercises good judgment. He is also a great manager of the work his team performs. Basically, he runs a happy team doing great work. What more could we ask for?
It turns out he wants to give a whole lot more. The two of us went on a trip together to visit two other companies like ours. This was a chance to learn and to share our experiences with our peers in the industry. We chose companies that we admired and with which we don’t compete.
I was excited for these meetings and I was impressed by how willing both companies were in agreeing to meet with us. I tempered my excitement by coaching myself on a few things. Specifically, I promised to not try to impress our hosts with our accomplishments as a company or with my own skills as a leader. I wanted for us to listen more than we spoke in order to learn all that we could. I have made many mistakes in the past by being too worried about appearances and not listening well. That wasn’t going to happen this time.
I was mostly successful in not wasting time trying to impress. I spoke when it was appropriate and shared when I thought it was the right time to do so and, as desired, we learned a lot more than we would have had I been busy talking about myself and our company.
Something else also happened. With me not dominating the conversation, my staff member started asking more questions, started sharing more than he usually would with outsiders, and eventually he started leading the conversations.
“What have we here?” I thought to myself. As I saw this unfold, I backed off even further and consciously took a backseat. The result was an amazing exchange of ideas and a real demonstration of the passion my team member had for a particular area of work.
When we debriefed later, his first comments where about how energizing the whole conversation was and how great it was to interact with others who shared his passion. I told him that I had never seen him so confident and passionate about something with outsiders before. We are now working on how this awesome team member can lead our whole company in this area.
I went into these meetings coaching myself on how to behave in order to allow our hosts to open up more. As an unintended benefit, I ended up hearing more from a key staff member of my own. As a result, we were able to identify a previously untapped major strength in someone whom I have led for years.
It pays in so many ways to be cool, to listen well, and to look for the hidden opportunities that lie right in front of us.