I recently ran across something that really struck a chord with me. “There would be a lot fewer problems in the world if we talked to people rather than about them.”
It is easy to agree with that sentiment in the abstract. You may even have one or two specific examples pop into your mind when you read those words. But before you get too comfortable up on that pedestal of high ideals, let’s take a moment to move that thought out of the abstract, and away from sweeping examples like stereotypes, politics or religion. Let’s take a look at the concept in your everyday life as a leader.
One of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Seek First to Understand . . .” The only way to do that is to talk to someone . . . to listen, to inquire, to explore questions and possibilities with them. One of the challenges for leaders is that people look to you for answers, for guidance on how they should act and what they should believe. After a while, it is easy to start speaking rather than seeking, to start telling others about how you see things rather than asking others to share their perspective.
Be honest, how many times have you talked about your frustration with a situation, another organization, or a government agency with someone other than the one who was causing you to cringe? Yep, guilty. Sure, sometimes you have to process and it is helpful to get someone else’s take on a situation to see if they see or are experiencing what you are. Just don’t get stuck there. If you really want to solve the dilemma before you, you have to move from continuing to rehash a situation (i.e. bellyaching) to taking steps to resolve the issue — which in most cases requires talking to someone. Not at, not about, to.
I’m not suggesting that you not be decisive as a leader, only that you have as much information as possible — from all perspectives — before making a decision. Do you know the intent of the person/organization who is causing “the problem?” Not what you assume their intent was, but honestly inquiring about what they were trying to accomplish? (Hint: usually it is not simply to annoy you.) Then and only then can you begin to take steps to solve the dilemma before you.
Being an effective leader isn’t about how “strong” you are. It is about how many roadblocks you can remove, how many problems you can solve, to help your organization, and those with whom you work, succeed. It’s not as hard as we sometimes make it. In fact, the first step is really pretty simple. Talk to me.