Leaders: Shut Up & Listen

Growing your leadership rarely happens sans intention and investment. I recently outlined how I intended to nurture some good leadership habits through the summer in “My Leadership Growth Plan: 3 x 3.” The first leadership practice of my 3 x 3 was ‘Listen & Observe More.’ Here’s what that looked like for me last week.

To give you some context, from June through August my work largely circles around our children’s & youth camps. There are provincial directors and teams who put in a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears to make these events an enormous success. They are incredibly passionate and gifted. I get the privilege to help guide that ship in the planning stages, narrow the gaps and grow the synergy between departments, and then champion the leaders from the sidelines through the camp season. Our most recent one was Kids Rock Camp. I’ve led and been part of children’s ministry and camps on countless occasions, but I hadn’t been “here” before. How exactly do you oversee a camp you’ve never attended? This was my first camp conundrum (the second one is a horse of a different colour, and better left for another post). It was the perfect time to sharpen the leadership habit of listening and observing. My resolve was to go in with eyes and ears open, to learn from those around me, and to stay mostly quiet (don’t say it, just don’t). Can you actually lead by listening and observing? Probably not all of the time, but certainly good leadership calls for it some of the time.

I’m learning that a good leader is better at asking the right questions than giving the right answers. This isn’t my natural inclination. Don’t get me wrong, leaders will speak up when needed, but let’s be honest, I’m not usually sitting quietly, debating whether I should say what I’m thinking or not, so that may not need as much practice per se. You know, you can do pretty good things and even get credit for them by selling your own ideas and mandating a team to carry it out. This might qualify as a rough definition of management. Managers talk a lot. If you want to accomplish great things, gather a team around you who bring far more to the table than you do, and let them talk. Guide them, inspire them, bring out the best in them as they build and refine brilliant ideas that will move your organization to a whole new level. This is leadership. You’ll get much further than you would by bringing ‘yes ma’am’s’ around the table to listen to you and stroke your ego.

Our task in leading is not to impress our team with the best ideas, skills, or know-how. In fact, how efficient is a team if the leader has the best skills around the table? When leaders do the real job of leading, they listen and observe more of what’s actually going on, ask better questions, develop better strategies out of real-time observation, and then go further, faster, by focusing on equipping and inspiring the team to be at their best.

So, fellow leaders, cheers to shutting up sometimes.

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