5 Ways to Hear from People Different from You

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is forgetting everyone doesn’t think like the leader.

I have personally made this mistake many times. We assume what we are thinking is what everyone else is thinking.

Wrong.

Wow! Time has proven this repeatedly.

The fact is people are different. They think differently. They have different desires. Thankfully – many times – they have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are different from the leader.

This can be frustrating, but it can also be extremely helpful! If the organization is limited to my abilities it is going to be very limited. (Duh!)

So, if you recognize the need and want to lead people who are different from you – and you should – you’ll often have to lead differently from how you wish to be led.

I’m just being candid here – frankly, I’d be comfortable leading by email, but how healthy would such an environment be?

When you fail to remember this principle of leadership – people are different – you frustrate those you are trying to lead. You get poor performance from the best leaders on your team and, worst of all, your team fails to live up to its potential.

Here are some thoughts to warrant against this:

(Please understand, I am using the word “I” a lot here. I don’t really like the term much, because I think better leadership is a we – but I want you to see how I being intentional in this area and provide a few practical examples.)

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities.

One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person – even outside or my work. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me everyone isn’t introverted like me. On any church staff I lead, I know I want some different personalities to compliment mine. Building my comfort with this in my personal life helps me welcome it even more in my professional life. We will all share a common vision, but we should have some unique approaches to implementing it. Ask yourself, “Have I surrounded myself with people who think just like me?”

Asking questions.

Lots of them. Personally, I ask lots of questions. I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. We do assessments as a team. I have quarterly meetings with direct reports. We have frequent all staff meetings. I periodically set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices, so I receive diversity of thought. I place a personal value on hearing from people who I know respect me, but are not afraid to be honest with me.

Never assume agreement by silence.

This is huge. I want to know, as best as I can – not only what people are saying, but what people are really thinking. To accomplish this I periodically allow and welcome anonymous feedback. I realize, just because of position, and partly because of personalities, some are not going to be totally transparent with me. I try to provide multiple ways for feedback. Even during meetings I welcome texting or emailing me (depending on the size and structure of the meeting) during the meeting. I’ve found this approach works better for some who may not provide their voice otherwise.

Welcoming input.

This probably should have come first, but this is – honestly – more of a personal attitude. I have to actually want to hear from people on my team – even the kind of information which hurts to hear initially. I personally want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. (I keep soft drinks in my office knowing it attracts them for frequent returns. I used to keep candy, but then health insurance became tricky.) Granted, I want to receive respect, but I expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Structuring for expression of thought.

Here I am referring to the DNA – the culture – for the entire team. And, it is very important. There has to be an environment with all leaders which encourages people to think for themselves. This kind of culture doesn’t happen without intentionality. As a leader, I try to surround myself with people sharper than me, but I want all of us to have the same attitude towards this principle of hearing from others. I believe in the power of “WE”. If we want to take advantage of the experience and talents in our church, we have to get out of the way, listen, and follow others lead when appropriate.

It’s not easy being a leader, but it is more manageable when you discipline yourself to allow others to help you lead.

How do you structure yourself to hear from people different from you? What are some ways you have seen this done by other leaders?

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7 thoughts on “5 Ways to Hear from People Different from You

  1. Making sure that I have opened the door of my leadership to feedback, by making sure in my leadership I model an attitude that opinions are not right or wrong, just opinions and how you “feel” will be owned and respected. I want them to know that their “feelings or opinions” are never going to be judged as right or wrong, but what they “do” with them, how their attitude acts them out is what makes them right or wrong. Unconditional feedback promotes the growth of civility among the team. They should be able to freely unconditionally share a feeling, feedback, opinion without feeling like they will hurt my feelings or I will judge them. Feelings and opinions are not right or wrong they are just that… a feeling or an opinion. I don’t put value on any feeling or opinion until it is “acted out” and then I hope it is done in respect and civility.
    Twitter: kmac4him

  2. Your point about asking questions is dead on. I think a class on how to ask questions should be offered at every University. This is the technique I've see used the most, with the greatest success. We are often not clear about what's going on prior to making decisions. Thanks for sharing Ron!