6 Strategies for Leaders Who Want to Flood Their Workplace With Great Ideas
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What does it take to go from a solo entrepreneur to a leader of a growing organization?
It starts with creating an environment where your employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns about the direction the company is going in, and knowing that you will take constructive criticism on board in the spirit that it is meant. Your business won’t be able to adapt to changing times if yours is the only voice that matters.
So how can you go about doing this?
1. Stay curious.
Always make sure that you are asking questions that focus your employees' attention on the goal at hand, said Dr. Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School. These will not be easy yes or no answers. Give your team the opportunity to think carefully and provide something meaningful to the project.
“It is always possible, in fact likely, that we may be missing something,” Edmondson said. “You have to remind yourself that you're not omniscient. Even your best ideas can be made even better by the contributions of others.”
2. Allow room for error.
Even if at a key moment your instinct is to not want to hear any criticism or pushback, take a breath and remind yourself that it’s better to be made aware of something potentially fatal now, when you can do something about it, than later when the window of opportunity is shut.
“Managers can continually emphasize [this] point,” Edmondson said. “[They can say] ‘I'm really excited about this direction, but please let me know if you see something we're missing. Because the last thing I want is a failure on my watch on this particular project.’”Related: The Leadership 'Secret' That Smart Leaders Have Known for a Century
3. Don’t be afraid of conflict.
Conflict can be helpful to the process so long as it’s conducted in a constructive fashion. Dr. Stewart Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project and practice professor emeritus of management at the University of Pennsylvania, said that it is important for managers to consistently convey that they need to hear from their colleagues for the business to be successful.
“[You can do this by] even providing examples of when that didn't happen and how it resulted in the failure in your own experience so that it's an honest story," he said. "That is a persuasive argument for why input from people who disagree with each other is required. You have to establish the business rationale for the importance of conflict about the work."
4. Leave the door open.
Friedman noted that it is imperative to consistently and explicitly admit that you don’t have the whole story and are open to hearing how your colleagues view things.
“[You can say] ‘here's what I see, here's what I think is the solution, but I'm sure I'm missing parts of the picture. What do you see?’” Friedman explained. “Especially for those on your team who might be shy, introverted or afraid to speak, having been burned in the past -- or just afraid of you because you're just a jerk and you don't know it -- you invite them. You have to demonstrate a genuine interest and a genuine curiosity about how other people think. If you don't have that then all of this is difficult."Related: 7 Inspiring Traits of Compassionate Leadership
5. Don’t disregard internal ideas.
You may not even realize that you’re doing it. Dr. Leigh Thompson, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and co-author of the book Stop Spending, Start Managing: Strategies to Transform Wasteful Habits, has conducted research that found that when solutions come from inside an organization, there can be a tendency for people to write them off.
“Internal ideas are often viewed as threatening," Thompson said. "If I'm the supervisor and I adopt an idea from my subordinate or somebody in a different business unit, then I'm a follower. I may lose status. I might not even be consciously aware that I'm a follower. Whereas if I have heard about the exact same idea that a competitor organization is doing or using then I have an ear to the marketplace. I am innovative. I am adapting.”
Don’t lose out on great ideas because you might be worried about how implementing them might change your standing within the company.
6. Don’t lead with fear.
If you are in a leadership role, it’s important to remember that being compassionate and powerful are not mutually exclusive. At this stage of the game, it almost should go without saying, but if you’re using fear or intimidation tactics to get things done, you’re not really managing at all.
“The reality is you can't see the knowledge or the expertise or the opinion that's not being offered. You just don't even know it's there, it's Invisible to you. You don't know the value you're leaving behind,” Edmondson said. “It's worthwhile to do whatever you can to create psychologically safe and fearless workplaces where people can bring their their full self to work.”