Lower the Volume

An insidious thing happens when you become a leader. People listen to you. Everything you say will be heard at ten times the volume.

Every little thing you offhandedly mention will be amplified and taken as an order from on high and acted on. After all, it came from our leader. That silly idea you meant as a joke suddenly has a budget to get it done as quickly as possible. The project team’s first meeting is next Monday.

Another insidious thing that happens when your voice is magnified, is that other voices are silenced. When whatever you say is taken as a directive, it’s hard for those you lead to offer conflicting ideas, alternative ways to accomplish the same outcomes, or information that shows you are wrong.

Leaders frequently share an idea with me that I think is not well thought-out or just doesn’t make any sense. And I tell them what I think. The first time I do this with a new client they’re surprised. They tell me that when they shared this idea with their people what they heard was “sounds okay to me ” or “interesting idea” or occasionally “seems like a good idea.” Hardly words of excited anticipation.

They ask me what I think they should do, now that they have my conflicting opinion. I always send them back to talk to their people in a different way. I suggest they call their team together again and tell them that they’ve been thinking about the idea and realize it might need some adjustment. I offer that they should ask for suggestions or thoughts and comments about the idea. Finally, I tell them they must keep their amplified voice restrained and listen closely and with full attention to the suggestions, offering words of thanks and questions or comments that expand the discussion rather than end it.

When I next see my client, I get comments about how the team was excited to hear they were backing off a bit and asking for the team’s ideas. Sometimes they even share their relief that they didn’t go forward without getting the team input as their idea turned out to need quite a bit of massaging before being implemented. And sometimes it turns out that once the team discussion occurs the project is killed.

Always remember you’re the boss and everyone is paying attention to everything you say. Everything. The ripple effect through your organization is rapid. Become a better listener and talk less. And when you speak always remember the power even a whisper has when it comes from the boss.

The line between leading and commanding is a fine one. But the culture you create and the results achieved are very different.




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