As a team, we have been providing both in-person and virtual visits for all of our potential and current clients with projects underway. After a recent virtual training week, a company owner called me and told me how much he appreciated that I listened to his team and did not over talk or force a concept on them. This has reminded me of how important it is, right now, that we as leaders in our companies listen first and then provide our input or direction for where you are headed. In fact, this is even more important when working with Millennial and Generation Z associates.
I have four individuals who I am honored to provide mentoring, and they are evenly split between the two generations. As I mentioned several years ago in an SBC magazine article on the generational shift from Baby Boomers and Gen X to the Millennial and Gen Z, a key concept is always the importance of listening. Meetings are important, especially now as we adapt to virtual work for many of our employees and what will be potentially future employment. But, a good leader must listen. One of my mentors, Andy Schwitter, who was the CEO of Truswal, helped me understand this as I saw in practice how he would listen to employees, customers, everyone before he would answer. In some cases, he was gathering all the information; in others, it was just important to make sure the individual(s) he was talking with had a chance to provide their input.
Sometimes we have leaders, vendors, customers, consultants, etc. who always want to control the conversation, to speak over others, or to say what they have already decided you may need and force a concept on you. They want to (try to) be the smartest guy/gal in the room/industry/etc. But, do they really listen, listen to what you need and what your employees need? Listening is a core principle that you need to hone and put into practice so that your other principles can thrive.
Rather than talking too much, think about the real goals you’re trying to reach. For me, I believe there is no greater joy as a leader than making my team look amazing for a job well done. If you want to experience this bliss, here are three things I suggest you try.
1. Focus on preparation for the meeting rather than on the meeting itself.
If you spend the time to focus on your team and making sure everyone is aligned and orchestrated before going into the big meeting or event, rather than trying to muscle through that misalignment in real time, you'll be amazed at how much easier things go.
2. Create a game plan for yourself.
After listening to all of the input, can you get to the desired outcome with the minimum amount of focus on you? That may be tough for some who walk in and automatically think their way is the only way. But, how can you elevate teammates and subordinates so that they are the point people, saying the words and taking the credit for the outcomes? A practice I use is to create notes for a meeting that include every individual attending; in cases with those who are not outspoken, I will write down questions to ask to elicit their input.
3. Silence is golden.
Resist the urge to show everyone else how smart you are by jumping in and "knowing the answer." If the team is far off track, see if you can find ways to nudge others to come around to your point of view themselves, rather than trying to overpower their perspective (which tends to only create resistance anyway).
As a leader, there is one important nuance to all of this, which is that you are not giving away responsibility to make the right thing happen—if it goes wrong, the buck still stops with you. This isn’t a way to blame your subordinates when things don’t go well. One of the great track and field coaches I had in the past, Jeff Leavey, would always tell us, “If you do what I have trained you to do, the victories will belong to you, and the losses to me.” So, let’s make the change by listening more and let the victories belong to your team, and take the losses on yourself.
The result is usually a much more efficient process, but, even more importantly, it empowers and develops your team so that they build the muscle of ownership and accountability. By putting your ego on the back shelf, you’ll set a powerful example for others to focus on what the company needs and not your own sense of self-importance.
If any of us at the 4Ward Solutions Team can be of assistance to you and your business, please let us know. Our team has assisted companies with change management hundreds of times to help leaders understand the importance of listening.
Best Practice Tip
There are a lot of exciting things happening every year in SBCA and one way to keep abreast of what is going on while you also network with your regional peers is to be a part of a local SBCA Chapter. Chapters provide an opportunity for everyone associated with our industry to actively participate and shape its future. Chapter meetings allow everyone to share ideas on regional and national issues and also provide an opportunity to network with your peers. I have always gained a great deal from local chapter meetings and their importance, plus it gives me a chance to learn what is going on in my market from others. Put your listening and participant skills to work by joining a chapter near you.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Group of Companies including Consulting Solutions, Labor Solutions, Offsite Solutions, Design Solutions, Software Programming, and Accounting Solutions. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to the 4Ward team with more than 150 years of experience. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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