As a leader, I’m certain you would agree it is your responsibility to maximize the contributions of those on your team. So what happens when you have a smart person on the team, who occasionally provides valuable insight, yet is generally quiet in leadership meetings? Here is a case in point – Over the past year, a client of mine, let’s call him Mike, has asked me to work with a number of the leaders in his organization. Mike seems to be happy with the growth of these leaders – many of whom have been given positions of greater responsibility. I’d like to think I had some small part of this success, however, that is a topic for another conversation. A couple of months ago, Mike asked me to work with him on a few areas of personal development he wanted to focus on. I was delighted to be selected.
As I am getting to know and work with Mike, he is a really sharp executive who can rapidly think through complex situations and develop successful outcomes. But another observable characteristic of Mike is he is not known to actively contribute his thoughts and ideas in top leadership meetings. Why the disconnect? Mike and I are developing a good theory to address this situation. The top leadership of this organization are all hard-charging, Type A personalities who have a relentless focus on fixing problems and getting results. In principle, these tendencies are great – who wouldn’t want to have a group of leaders like this? Because of this pattern and leadership behavior, the group will regularly deal with an issue, develop some immediate responses, and move quickly to the next pressing issue on the agenda. You may be asking, “What’s wrong with this approach?” Operating this way, the top leader doesn’t actively seek the thoughtful input of others in the room. The first person to vocalize what seems to be an appropriate (albeit short term) solution gets the nod and the discussion promptly moves on. In the meantime, other people in the room, often including Mike, are thinking beyond the short-term solution; they are several steps further down the road to developing a long-term plan which will solve the systemic problem and prevent the issue from requiring leadership intervention once again. Several years ago, I worked with the top four leaders of a particular company. Three of them had the same leadership style – quick action and quick decisions. The fourth person was more reflective and analytical in his thinking. What this team ultimately came to realize was how much better a decision was when the fourth person had a chance to weigh in, rather than go with the impulsive response typical of the others. When they intentionally involved the perspective of every person, “suddenly” they noticed significant improvements in the entire business operation! The fourth person is like Mike. Yet, whose fault is it when the Mikes of the leadership world don’t speak up? My contention is that it is not just Mike’s fault; the top leader shares responsibility as well. In many cases, for the sake of efficiency, the top leader doesn’t take the time to solicit Mike’s point of view. The top leader is not getting the best of Mike. Yes, you can jump on the Mikes of the world for not having enough self-confidence, or being too risk-averse, or any of the other traits Mike can rightfully work on to improve. Yet I’d also suggest you admonish equally the top leaders who favor efficiency over real leadership. Author Jim Collins has said, “Good is the enemy of great.” In this context, the good solution is the expedient one that solves the short-term problem but ignores the opportunity to execute a great solution that propels the organization — i.e., the Mikes of the world—higher than they originally thought possible. While Mike works on becoming more active in these leadership sessions, I ask you: Are you a Mike or are you the leader who doesn’t get the most out of the Mikes on your team? I hope you will consider giving some honest thought to this question – your awareness can help take your team, department, division or entire organization to new places. Best regards, Bill