What Great Bosses Do Differently
Let’s face it, there are great leaders in the marketplace, and there are bad leaders. I’ve known many leaders over the years who thought they were the leadership gift to their company and teams. Sadly, the opposite was true and they couldn’t see it. They had an inability to see themselves in the light of truth – and it cost them.
Great leaders listen. They are open to feedback. They provide opportunities for positive dialog. Truthful and constructive information about their leadership is something they long for – not something they run from.
There’s a great article titled “12 Things Good Bosses Believe” in The Harvard Business Review that talks about this very issue. As Robert Sutton, author and professor at Stanford University says, “At the same time, I’ve come to conclude that all the technique and behavior coaching in the world won’t make a boss great if that boss doesn’t also have a certain mindset.” Being an active listener is key to that mindset.
Sutton says that one of things great bosses do is this: I aim to fight as if I am right, and listen as if I am wrong — and to teach my people to do the same thing. This ties closely to The Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI) behavior #9, “Actively listens to diverse points of view.” James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, the authors of The Leadership Challenge, found that “the simple act of listening to what other people have to say and appreciating their unique points of view demonstrates your respect for them and their ideas”. How many times have we appeared to “listen”, but really are just busily crafting a response that further supports our own perspective while the other person is speaking? Jim and Barry tell us that we must learn to truly appreciate other people’s perspectives if we are to be respectful leaders.
When coaching our clients, they can often blow over this behavior because it seems so simple to implement. They say, “Ok, yes I get it. Everyone needs to be a good listener - this is a no-brainer.” But it is not. This behavior goes way beyond listening. Listening is only the entry door to the vault.
Great listening comes with this caveat: there could always be something we are missing. “Am I wrong in my approach or leadership style? Does someone else have better information in the organization than I do?”
It takes a strong, humble leader to ask these kinds of questions and voluntarily put themselves in places where they can receive potential criticism. But in the long run, it’s what makes them great leaders and increases their influence. Robert Quinn, author of Deep Change, would call this being “externally open”. Am I receptive to outside stimuli that may signal the need for change? In other words, am I actively listening to diverse points of view? What are people saying about my leadership that I need to know, and am I asking questions to find out?
So ask yourself this question: Am I a leader that actively listens to diverse points of view? Am I approachable? Am I creating ways for the people in my organization to approach me with information I need to know about my leadership gaps? It could very well be the difference between a good leader and a great one.
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." — Winston Churchill