Are You Listening?

The way of the fool seems right in his own eyes, but he who listens to advice is wise. – Proverbs 12:15

Do you hear them? Some are loud and obnoxious, others are soft and hesitant, but you are surrounded by voices constantly providing feedback of your leadership. And just as the tone of that feedback varies, so too does the source: superiors, counterparts, subordinates, and outsiders. Are you open to it? Do you take time to absorb and evaluate it? Or do you shrug it off as coming from people who simply do not understand what you are trying to accomplish?

Maybe the person behind one of those voices sees you straying off course. And while it is not a very appealing thought, as leaders we are rarely 100% correct. Yes, you are in charge (everybody knows it and you probably have the business card to prove it) but listening to the voices around you at key times is critical to the success of the task at hand. I have found that there are three distinct periods during a task when feedback, even if indirect, is readily available and most valuable:

Initial Tasking: It is not very often that a leader must make a critical, split-second decision. So it is best to make certain that you clearly understand the task, then bring your subordinate leaders in for some analysis, before briefing your entire team. Your subordinate leaders may raise concerns related to the availability of resources or capacity. This is a good time to charge them with developing additional courses of action. When briefing your team, you may hear the low rumblings of resistance. You must ensure that they understand the “Why” of what they are being directed to do, and that they know that you are committed to the success of the task. How you process and respond to feedback during this period will directly affect how the task begins.

Execution: It is during the execution of a task that the voices of resistance gain volume. If you hear complaining, do not fret; it is natural for your team members to verbally express their fear of change or increased operating tempo. Just take a minute to evaluate if this is the case or if there are truly any excessive, unsupported demands being placed on the team. If the latter, then consider how you can reallocate existing or secure additional resources to assist. Your subordinate leaders should already be voicing such ideas if they are paying attention to the feedback as well. Furthermore, do not be surprised if that resistance begins to emminate from counterparts at this point. They may simply be venting over the demands being placed on their teams, or they may be raising concern with your team’s actions. Always take the time to consider how your execution of a task may affect up or downstream teams.

Completion/Assessment: Once the task is accomplished, everyone will be excited, fulfilled and united, right? Probably not, but it is more important to identify the individual steps that succeeded or failed. Take some time to review the task, as executed, with your team. You may gain some valuable insight into how effectively you and your team communicated with each other; insight that can be useful when planning the next task. Your superiors will no doubt let you know their thoughts rather quickly. If a pat on the back is received then be sure to share it with the team. If a classic butt-chewing is received then it is time to practice your resiliency. Again, share that with the team as well.

Whatever the source of feedback, whether direct or indirect, it is critical that you sift through it all and determine which voices are simply complaining and which are trying to tell you that a little redirection is needed. I guarantee that those voices are already hard at work today… and you may just be one of them yourself.

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