Managers: Speak Last (or Not at All)

You run your own successful business and as such, you're the chief problem solver. You've got the most institutional knowledge on your team, so it's only natural to be the one who has all the answers, right?

Even if you do have all the answers, for the sake of your team, don't give them -- at least not right away.
Last week, I went to a committee meeting for an organization that I'm part of and we debated whether or not we should allow someone to join our group. Seven people discussed the applicant's merits and after everyone but me had given their input, someone looked at me and asked, "Jay, you always go last, what do you have to say?"

It hadn't occurred to me before, but she was right. I do always go last. It's something I started doing when I became CEO of my own company.

Here's why:

  • Managers are intimidating: Like it or not, when you're in the dominant role, giving your opinion will alter the remainder of the discussion. No one wants to look like he disagrees with the boss. If you want others' opinions, you must allow them to go first.
  • Your employees need development: If you always give the answers, no matter if you're right or not, then you'll always be the only one thinking. Train your employees to think independently and provide their own unique perspectives. This is essential because...
  • You need to delegate: It's fine in the early cycle of a business's development for you to come up with almost all the answers. After all, there aren't too many others to lean on. But as you grow, it's almost impossible to continue doing so. At that point, it's your job to ask questions, not supply answers. The only way to grow yourself, as well as the business, is by not allowing your employees to burden you with the responsibility of solving every issue. Turn it around and ask how they would handle the issue.
  • You need to understand your people: When you speak, you hardly learn a thing; but when others speak, you get to learn how they think and express themselves, and you can gauge their potential for growing into higher levels of authority and responsibility.
  • You should always ask questions first: It's common for people to hear a question and think they instantly know the answer, and sometimes prematurely answer the question before knowing all the facts. So first just listen, suspend judgment, then ask questions to clarify and unearth more perspectives. Then provide an answer more likely to be relevant and effective.
Leading is so much easier when you're not doing all the work... and all the thinking. And, who knows -- the best ideas might come from the least obvious source.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, by Big C Harvey