The Dumb Leader drove away from the state meeting with his mind churning. The meeting was full of information and new upcoming strategies. Seasoned branch and regional managers filled the room, listening in earnest as the state manager outlined the strategy and the initiatives for the coming year. It was a day of delivery from the company executives, a full day like that always brings a level of tiredness. But today this was mixed with a sense of concern and an immense feeling of dread.
The reason for the dread was simple. So many questions rattled around inside the head of the DL. Questions that he should have asked, but didn’t.
Sitting within the team of 50 other leaders always made the DL feel unsure and insecure. Everyone else seemed so confident. He certainly didn’t. The strategies outlined by the State Manager seemed to be well received by the whole team, yet all it left the leader with was questions and doubt.
- The new initiatives sound great and will certainly improve service levels, but without an increase in wage and salaries, he just couldn’t see how it could be executed.
- The new marketing strategy looked engaging, but aren’t we stepping away from our strategy pillars?
- The loss prevention team added greater complexity to an already complex program. So much for keeping delivery simple.
It was churning inside him. Why didn’t he ask the questions to get clarity? Now all he was left with was doubt, dread and a real fear of not being able to get the job done.
Wow, he was dumb.
But this time, he wasn’t alone. He was in a room of dumb leaders. Everyone at that meeting walked away without clarity on a number of fronts. Yes, they were excited about the service initiatives but without a clear understanding of the proposed best practice to deliver, the enthusiasm would be short lived. Their energy would be mis-directed and execution would be compromised. Compromised execution leads to the dying of strategy, so would the initiative. And with that comes the blame for the resultant lack of results.
On reflection the DL came to the conclusion that he was only hurting himslef by not asking the right questions. Maybe, if the other managers hadn’t looked so composed, he would have felt more comfortable, but he didn’t care about that now. All he cared about was how stupid and powerless he felt now. All those questions without the opportunity to get the answers for them. He committed to asking the questions he needed answered in the morning by calling his line manager and working through them.
The DL kicked the next day off early, but it wasn’t early enough. He was handed a list of calls he had missed from other managers as he walked in to the office. He had resolved to call his line manager direct to obtain the answers he needed and he debated for a second on where his priority lay, but he stuck with his plan and rang his line manager first.
He was glad he did. The discussion with his line manager went well, and he was able to clarify many of the questions he had. More composed he was ready to proceed. As soon as he got off the phone he started mapping out his strategy with his leadership team. He was excited to execute the new initiative and comply with the loss prevention needs. He understood why the change in marketing was occurring and that it was an extension of the strategy. The weight lifted from his shoulders and he now was much better placed for the future.
The rest of the day was spent, working with his team on the plans to execute the strategy. Interspersed with calls from other managers asking him the very questions he had from the meeting. Now, at least, he was able to provide guidance on how to implement and execute. He was happy to help the other managers, and as the day continued he learnt a valuable lesson.
There are a number of dumb things in this real example. Let’s break them down.
Not asking questions is obviously dumb, especially when everyone in that room was actually looking for the same answers. But also dumb, was the acceptance from the company of the silence that ensued from the meeting. The fact that clarity was achieved after one simple call makes the silence all the more dumb. Silence is not good for good vibrant buy-in.
So let’s look at the strategy.
The 3-Step Strategy
Many leaders find themselves in the position of our DL. They feel insecure as they peruse the room at the other leaders in the room. Not wanting to look stupid, or dumb inhibits many from asking questions, raising questions and actively participating in meetings at all levels.
- Understand that your thoughts are perceptions only. Your perceptions. Build confidence in your belief and esteem systems and value yourself highly. When you build belief and value in yourself, and support that with internal talk, your value externally also builds
- Be courageous. Don’t be afraid to be seen as dumb. Be less concerned with how others see you and more concerned with how you see yourself. Don’t see yourself as dumb, see yourself as courageous, see yourself as curious. Be the one that asks the questions because with questions comes clarity.
- Build your inner circle with people of value. Help others and that will be returned. Build your inner circle of trusted team members who add value to themselves and to each other.
The other question that arises is about the culture of acceptance from the company. When you are in a position of holding and operating meetings, it’s important to run them effectively and your team moves on with clarity for their actions. You do this by:
- Ensuring the communication channel is clear and tuned to the audience. The communication isn’t clear when it’s delivered by you, for you. Understand what it is that your audience needs and plan for expected questions.
- Build a courageous culture where people feel secure enough to speak up. Find space and time to do so at the meeting. Organise breakouts, organise brainstorms, there are a number of activities to do this. The key is to provide the opportunity and build the culture. People will obtain clarity by asking ask questions and getting buy-in.
- Understand that silence is not accent. If you’re running a meeting and getting silence, you’re not asking the right questions. Silence should not fill you with confidence. Silence should feel you with dread for execution. Ask the right questions.
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