Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 9, 2022. Revised 8:30 am.
One of the most important skills that strong leaders have is the ability to listen to others and allow debate as equals. For some, these are difficult skills to develop but once mastered, lead to more effective decision-making.
I first wrote about the importance of listening and nurturing a culture to debate issues in September 2014. This is an update of that article.
Have you ever worked for a boss who wouldn’t listen to your ideas or ask for your opinion? I have. I would verbally share an idea and before I could finish, they would tell me that it wouldn’t work. This type of boss saps the energy out of their organization. It creates an undesirable working environment, and the best and brightest employees won’t stick around for long.
In my leadership roles including that of CEO, I adopted an open culture with my direct reports. This culture encouraged them to share their opinions on any issue. My goal was to determine the best solution, relying on input from those with experience and expertise.
To get the conversation going, on occasion, I might first ask how they felt about solution A. A direct report may then share their view that solution B might be the better option. The manner in which I responded would convey how welcome their opinion was, and this would affect their desire to share their opinion in the future.
I would ask why they thought B was a better option than A. We would then debate the alternatives for an hour, for a day or for however long was appropriate. We would also invite other employees with expertise on the subject and those with good critical judgment to join the discussion. All opinions were considered and valued before making the final decision.
One of three things would result from this process. I might sustain solution A and thank my direct report for suggesting solution B and for creating the opportunity for solution A to be rigorously tested against an alternative. Or, if it became apparent that solution B was the better choice after being compared against solution A, I would choose B, thank my direct report for suggesting it and make sure they got credit for providing the best solution. The direct report would feel empowered because their insights were valued and their solution was chosen. They would also have a sense of ownership in the solution because they proposed it.
More often than not, however, by going through this process, solution C would emerge – a completely different solution or some amalgamation of A and B – which was far better than the alternatives. When we followed this process, we always felt confident that we had made the best decision, and indeed, we found that we rarely made a mistake.
Every employee wants their voice to be heard, to feel valued and to have ownership in the decision-making process. The leaders who understand this and empower their employees to be active contributors will set themselves apart with better decision-making and higher employee retention.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.