5 Ways to Listen to Different Voices as a Leader

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is forgetting everyone doesn’t think like them. I have personally made this mistake many times. We assume what we are thinking is what everyone else is thinking.

Wrong.

And time has proven this to me repeatedly.

The fact is people are different. They think differently, have different desires and, thankfully have different ideas. The way they process and share those ideas are often different from the leader.

This can be frustrating if we allow it to be, but with intentionality it can also be extremely helpful. As a leader, I limit the organization when I limit it to my ideas or abilities.

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

I’m just being candid here, but 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 – that 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, because I think better leadership is a “we”, but I want you to see how I try to be intentional in this area.)

Welcoming input.

This has to come first and is more about 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. Personally, I want any team I lead to feel comfortable walking into my office, at any time, and challenging my decisions. Granted, I want to receive respect, and I also expect to equally give respect. Knowing what my team really thinks empowers me to lead them better.

Intentionally surrounding yourself with diverse personalities.

One intentional thing I do is try to have good friends who stretch me as a person. I have some extremely extroverted friends, for example. They remind me everyone isn’t introverted like me.

On any church staff where I have led, I found some different personalities to compliment mine. I try to consistently surround myself with different voices, so I receive diversity of thought. 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.

Personally, I ask lots of questions. If you come to me with a question I am likely to answer with a question, such as, “What do you think we should do?” I give plenty of opportunity for input into major decisions before a decision is final. Periodically, I like to set up focus groups of people for input on various issues. I want to hear from as wide a range of people as possible.

Most important, 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.

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. It is important 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.

Structuring for expression of thought.

Here I am referring to the DNA and culture for the entire team. There has to be an environment where all leaders are encouraged 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”.

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?

Related Posts

Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

More posts by Ron Edmondson

Leave a Reply

Have you Subscribed via RSS yet? Don't miss a post!