Have you ever been in a meeting where you thought about a brilliant idea and somebody shot it down, because you were too junior to give an opinion or suggest a better way of driving a process? I have.
As part of my many experiences I share. I remember being in a meeting with my boss and two other colleagues, then I had not been promoted manager. A suggestion on a particular direction came up and I did not think it would work. I spoke up and told my boss that I thought we should try another angle as the one suggested may not work.
When we left the meeting, my other colleagues, who were senior to me, called me aside and told me they were shocked at my audacity in telling her that I did not think it would work. They said, I should have allowed her go on with her suggestion, tried it out, and if it did not work, then tell her that it did not work before suggesting my option.
I found this advice confusing, inefficient and sub-optimal. For me it was, why waste time doing something that would not take us far, in view of the tight deadlines we work with and also especially because we were in an environment that encouraged us to think and act proactively.
I had to go back and apologize for being forward and expressing a view contrary from hers during the meeting. My apology was accepted and she was surprised that I came back to apologize. After this incidence, I became a bit reticent in expressing a contrary view, even if I felt it would not work. Although, I did not always succeed in keeping quiet.
But, not everybody is as bold or driven by their beliefs. Sometimes this ‘boldness’ got me into trouble. How do we get people with ideas air their views in organizations and ensure that it will not engender criticisms and objections that may make them lose confidence and take away the benefit of their ideas from the organizations they serve? Many great ideas and innovative solutions have been borne from very many ‘juniors’ that their leaders gave a chance. This is a burning issue that leaders need to solve.
I recently read an article titled, “True Leaders Believe Dissent is an Obligation”, published by Harvard Business Review. The article resonated and stated that, “executives and entrepreneurs who have created enduring economic value, based on sound human values – recognize and embrace the “obligation to dissent. Put simply, you cannot be an effective leader in business, politics or society unless you encourage those around you to speak their minds.”
The article went on to talk about how McKinsey and Company (Mckinsey), has a value that is passed on to every new hire called the “obligation to dissent”. It means the youngest most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room. Can you imagine this happening in Nigeria? This practice is enshrined in McKinsey. Can this be one of McKinsey’s secrets for being the most celebrated consulting firm in the world? Food for thought!
I have had four bosses in my career, who encouraged me to question the status quo. They taught me that there was always a better way to do something that had been done before. These bosses stretched my capabilities, made me think, feel valuable and gave me a “can do” spirit. These values I try to pass on to my subordinates. I always tell them that I never feel there is an assignment I cannot try to accomplish. That they also can do anything they decide. My slogan to them is “if you can think it, you can do it.”
What am I getting at? Leadership is Everything. Leaders need to start ensuring that they build up their employees to be fearless and encourage them to develop innovative ideas. There is so much we all know as leaders and cannot do it all. We need to unleash the potentials and capabilities of our employees. Many times their ideas are much better than ours, because they are at the forefront and in the trenches with our customers and clients.
As leaders, we all need to embrace humility and stop being insecure. Many leaders fail because they lack these simple traits.