During a recent 360 feedback event, where leaders receive feedback from their supervisor, peers, and direct reports, one of the leaders came up to me afterward. She said, “Scott, my feedback is telling me I need to have better interpersonal relationships, especially with my peers. Can you give me some advice on how I can improve in this area?"
My knee-jerk reaction was to provide advice from my training and experience so I began rattling off my instructions. I gave a step-by-step plan to this young leader what she needed to do to have mutually satisfying relationships. After all, in my training and coaching practice, I have developed a near effortless perspective in this area. As an executive coach with a doctoral dissertation in executive coaching, I assumed I knew what the problem was.
Thankfully, I noticed the blank stare on this young leader’s face. She was completely overwhelmed.
I FELL INTO THE TRAP OF THE LEADERSHIP EXPERT
I stopped mid-sentence, shifted my thinking, and asked, ”When it comes to interpersonal relationships, what doesn’t seem right to you?” The young leader went on for about 3-minutes describing her thoughts and analysis. She explained how she felt spending time on “chit-chat” was not productive in the midst of her busy day. For example, when she had a meeting she skipped pleasantries and got right down to business. She wondered aloud if this was a possible disconnect with her peers.
Asking this woman a simple question allowed her emotional space to verbalize ways she needed to improve her interpersonal relationships. I had forgotten that most young leaders are just beginning their journey. They are still getting used to the language of leadership. They are receiving feedback, many of them for the first time. Where I am in my practice and where they are as young leaders are two entirely different places.
THOSE I LEAD ARE AT DIFFERENT STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT
Scientists claim that it takes at least 10,000 hours of study, experimentation, and practice paired with coaching and advice from individuals in that field before you become an expert in an area.
10,000 hours equals 6 years spent on the subject full-time, 8 hours a day, 200 days per year. Few of us have dedicated this kind of time to a field, so for most of us, it takes 10 to 12 years to develop our expertise.
Have you fallen into the same trap I did? Are you holding young leaders to a high standard of evaluation?
Edgar Schein, in his book Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, gives leaders sage advice when leadership conversations go wrong.
Do less telling.
Learn to do more asking.
Do a better job of listening.
Here are three suggestions to practically implement Schein’s advice:
Do less telling by learning to let go of your need to be heard as an expert. What is driving your need to be right or heard? Replace your directive style with an inquiry.
Learn to do more asking by making your questions open-ended. “What doesn’t seem right to you” or “Tell me more about what you are saying."
Do a better job of listening by practicing empathy. Give them your full, undivided attention while keeping in mind where they are in their development.
Think of a relationship you have struggled with at work. The next time you are in conversation with this person, give up your expert position and ask some open-ended questions instead. Focus on improving the strained relationship. Let go of the outcome of the subject you are working on and focus on the quality of your questions and your listening ability. By making this kind of investment in others, your work may actually become easier.
If you have some success with this I would love to hear about it. Send me an email or better yet make a comment below so everyone can benefit from the conversation.