For the last twelve months I have had the honor of leading a global team – leaders from six different countries. In my personal life, I have been managing by long distance, the affairs of my eighty-seven year old dad. These experiences have highlighted for me the importance of communication, collaboration and openness to differing points of view. I experienced the power of collaboration as well as the joy it brings to those involved when the results are successful. I also recognized that the results we achieved could not have been accomplished by one person. In the meantime, the current events in the USA and across the world have evidenced the results of a lack of dialogue and collaboration.
As I reflect on these experiences, I am more convinced than ever that collaborating with others is hard work, but worth every minute invested. Even if a mutually satisfying result is not achieved, the experience provides an opportunity for understanding that is beneficial in future encounters.
In our world of “us against them”, “friend or foe”, “my way or the highway”, it is easy to get stuck within our own conscious and unconscious biases and fool ourselves into believing that “my way is the only right way.” In the U.S., we will see a lot of this thinking exhibited as the presidential debates launch within the coming days.
So what does this mean as it relates to our daily lives? How can we be authentically who we each are, stand up for our beliefs and make the best decisions while being collaborative? I suggest that we can take three actions:
1. Speak up for what you believe unabashedly, with courage and conviction. Be willing to lean into the discomfort of knowing all will not agree with you. After all, if they did you probably did not push the envelope far enough for sustainable change. So many people go along to get along that great ideas never surface for fear of criticism. The great leaders of this world were willing to speak their truth. Speak your truth in a way that others can hear it. Relate your idea or recommendation to something others already care about.
2. Encourage others to improve upon your idea or suggest alternatives, and then really listen to different perspectives. My global team and I wrestled with several critical issues that could make or break the organization, long term. We constantly reminded ourselves of the values and goals of the organization, as we explored the best solutions. Ultimately, we recognized that the best solutions were sometimes not our ideas. The path to the best solution was to make sure the key stakeholders were at the table, so they could share their point of view and provide the institutional history that would clarify the context for their point of view. When a team comes up with a solution, they do not argue with their own data. They become the champions to implement the idea.
3. Recognize that the best leaders know how to facilitate the sharing of ideas and solutions. Harry Truman said, “It is amazing the results you can achieve when you do not care who gets the credit.” In an ego driven society this is difficult for many to do. My recommendation is to get to know your team. What is important to each of them personally and professionally. Shine a light on each of them as often as you can. Provide the support they need to know that it is safe for them to share their ideas with you and with the team.
This might be the most difficult step, because it requires that you address your own biases head on. Do not assume that certain team members do not have great ideas, just because they do not look, speak or act like you think they should. Be willing to reach out to team members who are least like you to solicit their ideas. Make sure they are heard in team meetings. Call upon them to share.
The best leaders know they do not have all the answers. They surround themselves with people different than themselves and encourage all to share. They look for ways to be courageous and kind and cause others to want to be on their team.
In essence, the best leaders value the diversity of thought, seek it, encourage it, and find ways to make decisions that reflect the voices of the stakeholders involved.
A weak leader only trusts her/his own ideas. What will you do today to seek those various points of view that will ultimately make you a strong leader?