Leading: Telling or Asking?

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January 29, 2016

I attended a leadership facilitation certification program today and learned another lesson about my leadership (as my innovation colleague, Jonathan Vehar, says “Oh, goody, another learning opportunity.”)

We were members of three divisions of one organization that needed to work together to create a best solution in product development. Timing was too tight for much preparation or planning, so our (my) leadership behaviors came out.

Now, in doing this work professionally, I know a thing or two about how experiential or behavioral simulations often work. Their designs routinely force the participants into action quickly, and, if you take the task seriously, your behavior comes out. Luck would have it that I was handed a slip of paper that directed our group to do something across the three divisions. And I, given my preference for taking charge, took charge. I thought I did this with some measure of control, but the clock was ticking.

Suffice to say, that we, as an organization, did not perform best of class. I’ll say it wasn’t just me; there were 15 other people interacting and none of us really knew how to “make it work” until it was too late. What I did learn was how others felt about our collective work.

What struck me most clearly in the debrief was a comment from a colleague across the room that what he heard mostly from all the members was more telling than asking.

Time pressures, tensions, high stakes, how often do leaders default to the pressures and resort to directing, taking charge or telling without taking the time to check in with relevant stakeholders? I’m certainly guilty at times.

In the organizational development world we have a saying: Slow down to speed up. A similar saying is: Take time for learning. How often do we think we don’t have time to seek alignment or commitment now, but somehow we always have time to deal with the stalls, the breakdowns and the lack of commitment later? It’s like saying we don’t have time to be influenced while we are supposed to be doing the influencing. And people notice this about us.

What are we missing?

I think we fall into the trap of being too smart for our own good (and for the good of our organizations). Sometimes we are so sure we know the exact right approach, the exact right goal, mission or vision, and are unaware of the impact we’re making on others – those on whom we must rely in order to get the work done.

There’s a story that says Albert Einstein was once asked: If you had 60 minutes to save the world, how would you approach the problem. Reportedly he said: “I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes implementing the solution.” I’m not saying that works for every situation, but it’s probably applicable more often than we are using it.

Slow down to speed up. I need to pay more attention to this. Do you?


BE BETTER NOW – A Leadership Call to Action – Take a moment right now to put your thoughts into action

  1. What is ONE ASPECT of your professional life that might benefit from more or different attention in this subject area (enhancing the impact you make on others)?
  1. What is ONE THING you could do TODAY that would move you more deliberately in this direction? The Behavior or action I could take (verb); I will…
  1. HOW will you ensure you are developing – WITH WHOM can you share this goal or add to your brain trust to hold yourself accountable?
  1. MAKE a 10 minute calendar appointment right now to check in with yourself on this topic next week (better yet – for each following week). Keep it practical – write brief notes on two questions only:
  • What clear steps did I take last week for my own development?
  • What will I focus on executing next week?

Need some thought partner time? – Call/email at 336.918.8415 chris.evans@nullchristopherevans.org

Practical – Relevant – Immediately Useful