Monday, October 21, 2013

Leadership balance: Not ignoring people while ignoring the noise.

In any leadership challenge, we are faced with myriad inputs, ideas, thoughts, recommendations, prophets of doom, new concepts, sarcastic looks and cynical emails, executive pressure to conform, and endless advice.

The value of organizational input is obvious: by listening, we gain crucial insight, but that doesn't mean we need to listen to all the noise.

We can learn from those on the ground, the very people who are facing the battle every day.   Yet although they may have insight, they may also be wrong. They have a very slanted view of day-to-day activities, based on their current emotional pain.  Leaders listen, but do not base their long-term plans on short term emotional pain. 

We can learn from those who had different experiences in the past.  Let's face it; experience matters!  The things people have done in the past are legitimate, concrete situations they can point to and say "See, this is what happens when you ..." And yet, if we simply rely on those with a bad experience, we are likely to be pulled by the emotional tug of a wounded victim.

We can learn from the guru with the latest technology!  In other words, input from the future.  Technology reigns supreme these days in most circles.   Ignoring the techies of the world is simply stupid.  People with good technical sense can make the world (our world - your world) a better place.  But technology for the sake of technology is never a good idea ... yet there are those who want to try every new thing that hits the cloud!

We can learn from our peers who have done similar projects.  I find this group to be the most effective of the bunch, simply because they're had to navigate tough waters in the same organization.  Yet even they may have a somewhat jaded view of the situation, simply because they lead a different team or their own leadership methods were ineffective.  (Not all leaders are equal). 

SO - what's a leader to do!?  Listen but ignore the noise.

  1. A great starting point is admitting that no one, and I mean no one has the solution.  As a leader, it's your job to weigh all the ingredients and build a solution.
  2. Listen most carefully to those who are truly interested in your success - people who have a track record of investing in your career, those who want you to succeed. 
  3. Listen for the real kernel of truth from those who are most frustrated.  Somewhere in their rant is a gemstone of help.
  4. Acknowledging to yourself that your decisions and approach will not make everyone happy.  It just ain't gonna happen.
Early in my first supervisory role I had a conversation with my boss. I told him I was going to go and talk to everyone about a decision I made to make sure everyone would like it.  He asked me "Have you thought this through?"  I answered "Yes." "Have you considered the different angles of your decision?"  Again, I answered "Yes."  "Have you done your best?"  "Yes," I replied.  "Then you need to move forward with your decision."

At the end of the day, no leader will be right all the time.  And while we need not ignore people, we must ignore the noise.

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