Leading by Listening: My Five Questions
By Glyn S. Williams, President – Mahlmann Media
I have been very fortunate in my career at media agencies to have worked for and alongside many great leaders, whether that is at the top of the group or my immediate managers and colleagues. It has been a blessing to absorb everything they have taught me either directly or indirectly and either holistically or in the moment. Of the countless things I have learned along the way, a few things in particular have gravitated to the forefront and anyone who knows me or has worked for me hears me speak of these often.
At my core, I am rooted with the concept that smart people want to work with smart people they like and trust. When hiring, I am laser focused on stockpiling my organization with smart, likable, trustworthy people. It’s a slight take on the brilliant Steve Jobs notion of surrounding yourself with smart people and get out of their way but taken just a small step further. It is less about getting out of their way as it is about placing them at the center of my organization’s energy force. As a leader my role is to encourage, support, and enhance my team members’ energy and then feed off that energy myself, not detract from it, discourage it, or minimize it.
Once you place tour team at the center of your organizational energy force, you understand they are your company’s best assets and most importantly, you begin to care deeply about them and what they think. You begin to ask questions, observe, listen, and respond to their struggles and successes alike. That feeds my next guiding principle, which again, anyone who has worked for me can probably recite back to me. A leader must have a vision, of course. An understanding of the company and where it can go, always looking upward. But it is important to allow that vision to be edited with collaboration and feedback and implemented with consensus. On the front end of that, it takes an astounding amount of misguided hubris to think you are the only one in your company to have a vision. And on the back end that vision does not really matter if you cannot convince your team to implement it. A great step in getting their buy in to the vision is ensuring they know they were a part of it.
That leads to the 5 questions I ask annually and then feed off throughout the year.
What are some things that make you proud/excited to be a part of this organization? / What are we doing right?
Why this question matters: This sets a tone of optimism and your base level of thinking should always be one of optimism. Clearly, we must be doing some things right if the doors stay open, right? This also sets a base level of what need to build upon to keep them feeling this way. Look back at the notes from the previous year. Is their answer the same or different? Do other people feel the same way? Is their answer aligned with the core values you want the organization to follow? Hopefully, their answers will run deeper than “I like the type of coffee we keep in the kitchen”… but it’s also a good thing if they do like the coffee! Listen deeply with intention and openness. Their answers might surprise you.
What are some things you would like to see change within this organization? / What are we getting wrong?
Why this question matters: This one could be gut-wrenching to listen to and you must be sure they know they can be honest with you. Do not feed into a natural desire to respond to this during the feedback session or defend anything they speak of, because it will shut them down to giving more feedback. Just listen, take extensive notes, and let it sink in deeper once you have asked this of everyone. If most – or even all! – people answer this question mostly the same, you are doing pretty well. If everyone has completely different answers your troubles run deep … but by asking the question you are in a positive place of improvement.
How do you think we can make 2021 our best year ever?
Why this question matters: This can be a powerful statement. Set a high mark for yourselves. Make yourselves believe that you can say “Wow. That was incredible what we’ve done.” Hear it from the people who will be implementing the work more hands on. What is their definition of success and what do they want? Which feeds into…
What can the leadership team do to help you succeed in your role?
Why this question matters: Service based leadership. What can leadership do to help you? Help. You. The overall company will not succeed if the team members themselves do not first have that word in ether but then don’t feel they will be supported to get there. Another way to put is reverse goal setting. What goals do the team have in mind for the management team?
What’s “keeping you up at night”?
Why this question matters: This one cuts to the heart of caring about your staff and supporting them. What are they worried about? What are they stressed about? Alleviating these stress points as much as you can clears a mental pathway toward their success. Sometimes all that stands in anyone’s way of success are some mental or even process related roadblocks that have to be cleared.
These are just some of the key questions you can and should ask your teams. The point is to find success by asking questions, listening, learning, implementing, and clearing barriers and roadblocks for your team members’ success. If you do things the right way, the things you learn from your team will feed your organizations success and you all get to share in the energy that creates forward! And this year feels all the more important to ask these questions as most leaders now find themselves in a position they’ve never been in – maintaining a strong company culture while some, most, or even all your teams are working remotely.
See the article on Billboard Insider.