As leaders, sometimes we need to make tough decisions, say “no” to a brilliant idea or pioneer a new business approach. While these are all essential skills, the heart of leadership lies in how we interact with others, how we present change and how we trade ideas with decisiveness, tact and humility. Sounds easy? Not at all. The truth is that many leaders struggle to communicate in a way that makes people feel heard, valued and inspired to follow their lead and rally around a shared vision. Here are three basic truths leaders ignore when asserting their ideas, resulting in low team morale and poor engagement.
1. By not listening, you’re not getting people on board quicker – you’re pushing them on board.
In their attempt to get buy-in as quickly as possible, some leaders will bulldoze through their peers’ arguments, without fully acknowledging them and at times – even without hearing them out. In other words, it’s like insisting I must buy your sneakers, while totally ignoring my brand-new Nikes! Similarly, interrupting others every two words will convey the message every leader should avoid sending: “I don’t care what you think” or “I’ll anyway disagree no matter what you say”.
People are attached to their ideas. Convincing somebody to give them up only by listening to your arguments will not work, unless you give them an opportunity to present theirs as well. By making them feel heard and understood, you are getting their “elephant” (emotional brain) out of the way. Hence, you will be able to access their rational mind and have a more productive discussion. Plus, you may conclude their arguments do make sense! As Adam Grant puts it, “we learn more from people who challenge our thought process than those who affirm our conclusions”.
2. When saying “no” is your default response, it’s time to rethink your approach.
If you often lead relying on your veto power, then you need to engage in some self-reflection: either the team you built around you is not the right organisational fit (culture-wise, performance-wise etc.); or your leadership style is not the right fit for the team. As a leader, your priority is to serve the good cause to the best of your abilities, even with the price of your likeability. Yet this cannot justify the fact that you consistently go against the flow. If you often find yourself saying “no” when hearing other ideas, it’s time to pause and think again.
Having this awareness also helps you get buy-in more effectively. Sometimes, when saying “I don’t like the idea”, you convey the subtle message that the acceptance criteria are very subjective. An idea is basically similar to an ice cream. If I happen to bring you a flavour you don’t like, then I’m just unlucky. Instead, leaders can respond with curiosity – “I’d like to better understand why you propose this”; or back up their “no” by explaining the business goals and providing more clarity on their expectations and decision-making process.
3. Getting too emotionally attached to an idea will only hinder your business.
A trauma-informed approach is essential in understanding that sometimes, rejecting an idea is perceived as rejecting the human behind it. Having your ideas challenged can often be anxiety-inducing. So, it’s easy to lose sight of the organisation’s needs and leverage your formal power as a personal shield in proving how right you are. Hence, you are not open to reconsider an idea or digest any arguments against it. You made up your mind and there’s no turning back. The business itself becomes an arena where egos collide rather than a cause to be served.
Sometimes people believe that their diplomas or property valuation have a say in who they are. Similarly, as a leader, you may often believe your ideas encapsulate your identity and tend to take things personally. The solution? Ground yourself in wholeness, a strong sense of self, personal values and a clear mission. Finally, employ a healthy dose of detachment – your ideas are not you. The good news is that with patience, self-compassion and awareness change is possible and new mindsets can be forged.