By Judith E. Glaser and Nancy Snell | Small Business Review
No work is more important for a leader than creating an environment in which all team members can contribute. That raises the collective IQ of the company and pays dividends as the business gleans ideas for new strategies and improved processes from all over the company.
But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Before workers can feel comfortable about sharing ideas and insights with one another and with management, you have to create the right environment. Bosses who have created a culture in which decisions are made at the top, with input from only a few executives behind closed doors, can’t turn on a dime and ask for help from the troops. They don’t have the credibility. To develop it, they first must prove that the experiences and observations and imaginations of people across the company are regarded as corporate assets.
We have found that coaching—for the boss and by the boss—can help change the enviroment and get employees to see themselves as empowered team players. When a business owner learns to communicate in what we call a “We-centric” way (as opposed to an “I-centric” way) the overall IQ of the organization rises.
First, it helps to identify and break down some of the attitudes and behaviors of the typical I-centric leader—patterns that make them less effective than they could be. These individuals refuse to share power or speak candidly, for fear they will appear weak or soft. The domineering I-centric leader, perhaps unintentionally, turns the focus of the organization inward, because everybody wants to know what the all-powerful boss is up to. The company takes its collective eye off the customer—with predictable results.
When it comes to communicating, I-centric leaders often don’t. They assume that voicing their ideas and repeating them will cause employees to embrace them. It doesn’t work that way. Overall, the I-centric leader persists in Alpha behavior—he (or she) has to be the last word on everything. For these people, winning means somebody else has to lose. They never admit mistakes, and the stakes are high for that kind of behavior.
We-centric leaders, by contrast, are less hung up on status and maintaining ultimate authority. They lead by example—showing the organization that it is essential to listen as well as talk, to share information and to learn from mistakes.
Share Power. At meetings, give the lead to your employees so they learn how to lead too.
Seek feedback. Ask employees how you are doing as a leader. Listen to what they say and be open to change.
Focus everyone on pleasing the customer. Turn their attention outward, to the market, rather than inward at the boss. This produces better performance.
Share a framework for change. Start by setting down over-arching goals, then ask people for strategies to achieve them. Don’t think of strategy and implementation as separate spheres; engage employees in both.
Behave like a leader, not a dominator. Don’t try to win by intimidation. Define leadership in terms of creating environments for success for everyone—yourself, included.
Break down silos. Identify areas where territoriality is getting in the way, and find strategies to end turf wars and foster cooperation; sponsor leadership challenges in the organization that requires teams of people from different areas to work together on vital business challenges.
Be the change. Asking others to change doesn’t create change. You need to change how you interact with others: Show, don’t tell.
Be human. By admitting when you are wrong and showing that you can turn a mistake into a “learning moment,” you teach employees that they can do it too.
Celebrate We. Share the credit and spread the praise—emphasize that “we are all in this together.”
Once the boss has started creating a We culture, coaching is a proven way to start engaging employees in more meaningful ways. A good place to start is to ask employees to help identify best practices—processes and tactics that can improve company performance. This exercise determines what constitutes excellence in your company and helps to identify what is good and what is working. Sharing ideas and best practices routinely is an essential way of elevating skills, generating enthusiasm and reinforcing the “We” culture. Colleagues who learn from each other are more apt to develop the higher-level skills and institutional wisdom needed to meet ever-higher goals.
Don’t expect overnight results. This is a process that needs to become part of the company routine—not a one-off event. As leaders repeatedly engage employees with questions about how to do the job better (rather than simply dictating marching orders) they create a virtuous cycle of advice, suggestions and feedback. In the process, they create a community of colleagues that looks forward to coming to work every day.
These conversations need to be “dialogues” not “talk-ats.” It is important to establish the ground rules for the group—to determine the scope and objectives. But it is essential that each member plays a role in creating the future.
- Organize groups around common experiences to share best practices—a team of sales executives, or a team of marketing executives. Pay attention to group dynamics; don’t let any one person, including the boss, dominate.
- Select team members for diversity of viewpoint—it is in the clash of ideas that new insights are formed.
- Ask all the members of the team to describe processes they use that are having a positive impact or are creating new business success. They should talk about how they can transfer this knowledge to others and how it can be applied across the organization (if it can).
As a leader, you have a tremendous opportunity to promote mutuality and to counter territoriality and silo thinking, by encouraging everyone to grow along with you. As everyone—including the boss—receives regular feedback on their ideas, on their performance and on their behavior, your organizational IQ (and organizational profitability) grows exponentially. It’s a win-win, which is what WE-centric leadership is all about.
Judith E. Glaser, CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc. and author of Creating WE: Change I-Thinking to We-Thinking & Build a Healthy Thriving Organization; Platinum Press, 2005. Selected as one of the best business books of 2005. www.creatingwe.com; and The DNA of Leadership, February 2006; 212 307 4386.
Nancy Snell, CEC, is a certified professional business coach with a broadcasting career that spanned 25+ years. She specializes in workplace issues and coaches professionals who are ready to get unblocked, unfrustrated and on track. Nancy served as a Director on the Board of the NYC – ICF in 2005. www.nancysnell.com212 517 6488