What Did You Say?

By Sharon Worsley

I once read a report from the Harvard Business Review which examined the way leaders speak to the people who work for them. It started out by asking when was the last time you said some of the following statements to your employees: I don’t know; what do you think?; what would you do?; I am sorry; I was wrong (my personal favourite).

Here is an insight that you may have been fooling yourself about: people know when you don’t know what you are doing. I will agree that it is not always easy to admit our mistakes or show our weakness, but what I have learned is that when you show your vulnerability you can actually raise your status in the minds of those around you instead of alienating you from them.

Hopefully, in your own life, you have been open enough to have respected someone whose status with you grew when they admitted their shortcomings and were open for feedback and assistance from you. So if that is the case it would serve you well to do the same to those who are your subordinates.

How do you speak to your staff? Do you show respect, or are you an authoritarian barking orders left and right? If your communication does not show respect to those listening, then no matter how loudly you bark, you are not being heard. If there is no respect in your tone or words, those listening will feel abused and alienated. What does it really take to be more aware of how you come across to the employees of your organization?

One of the most powerful things I think leaders can do is to admit that they don’t know something and then seek out a way to get the answers. Smart leaders surround themselves with great staff that may have knowledge that they do not have themselves. Great leaders recognize that they can’t know it all, but instead defer to those who are experts in their area.

Several years ago I started attending an internet marketing cruise that has been a yearly event for some time. It brings together gurus and newbies, like me at that time, to learn from one another. The most important thing is that all egos are left at the dock. These people travel from around the world to spend a week having fun cruising around the Caribbean, and when the ship is not in port they hold mastermind meetings where knowledge and information is freely shared.

The first year I cruised with this group I met someone that I consider to be an amazing example of leadership. His name is Robert G. Allen and is best known as the author of the book ‘Nothing Down: How to Buy Real Estate with Little or No Money Down’ and is the coauthor with Mark Victor Hansen of the book ‘The One Minute Millionaire.’ Through these books and several others, he has written Robert is considered to be one of the most influential investment advisors of all time.

From what I understand, Robert’s main motive for being on the cruise was to learn from, and tap into, the knowledge of seasoned internet marketers for a new book he and Mark were publishing, entitled ‘Cash in a Flash: Fast Money in Slow Times.’ Now you would think that someone like Robert, as successful as he was, didn’t need to be on some cruise in the middle of the Caribbean to learn from this group. Surely he had enough knowledge or experience to go this alone or instead privately pay some high-priced consultant?

I believe he is a great example of a leader being open to what he does not yet know. At one point of the cruise, there was a session where he was chosen to be in the ‘hot seat.’ The person chosen goes before the group with a particular challenge he or she is facing, or to seek advice for some matter pertaining to their business. Robert was looking for ideas on how to launch the book using the internet as a valuable tool.

Everyone that got up to the microphone that day to offer a suggestion, technique or tip for him to consider was presented with a fake US$1 million dollar bill (the type you buy at a gag shop) that was signed by Robert as a thank you for their time. It did not matter if they were considered a big-time internet marketing guru making 7 figures or more a year or someone who was just learning how to get into that industry; even a first timer like me was given time to share my ideas with Robert and the group. I still have my signed bill sitting below my computer screen to remind me each day of the great lesson to always seek out the advice of others.

A number of leaders I have worked with in the past either consulting or through executive coaching have started out working with me having the attitude that they cannot possibly let their guard down and be vulnerable in front of their staff. To do so they fear will take away their ‘power’ over their employees somehow.

As we start to work together, they begin to see subtle changes in the staff that report to them when they use phrases such as the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this article or are just open to others ideas or opinions. The staff starts to feel that they are being heard, even if what they suggest cannot be implemented for some reason.

It provides a feeling of trust and respect much stronger than previously experienced.

Points to Ponder: How might you, a leader in your organization, community or even your family, use the example of Robert G. Allen? What wisdom already exists in the people around you just waiting for you to ask them? Where could you ‘uplevel’ your leadership style so that it created more trust in those that work for you to share their opinions in a safe no-judgement environment?

Sharon Worsley, The Business Development Ninja™ is the creator of the R7 System™ to Flood Your Business With Clients Today, Tomorrow and Beyond, helping businesses to ‘Wake Up, Shake Up, and Show Up’. She also consults and coaches peak performers to excel as leaders. To learn more, contact Sharon at [email protected]