Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Standing on separate thought continents

When I first became a supervisor every decision had to be made slowly, methodically as I thought through the options and the various outcomes. Today, I move a little faster, maybe too fast. Someone asked a question last week, and I answered before I truly understood what they actually meant. Then it took twice as long for us to get back to common ground.

We stood on separate thought continents.

I thought about that when I reviewed notes of a new product launch. I methodically plotted an introduction, anticipated the questions I'd be asked, and drafted the strategy to answer each one (and when).  Three sentences into my bullet points the interruptions erupted.

My audience had leapt ahead and not necessarily on the road I navigated.

What is it that makes us want to hurry so fast, make judgments on what we believe others intend, plan or why they take the actions they do? What would happen if we listened to understand? Or waited half a moment to see if, while listening, most of our own questions are answered?

As I reviewed the a rapid fire of questions I’d received and how I’d tried to escape them as if dodging bullets, I realized I don’t have to answer every question that  is lobbed at me. Had I dug a little deeper, sought to understand the creative process that had ignited their queries, maybe I would have learned more, learned something, learned anything.

Maybe I would have had some insight into their thought process.

Next time I’m caught in the crosshairs I’d like to seek a different kind of exchange. Ask: what would happen if we did that, what would happen if we didn’t? Part of our role as managers is to develop employees. I’ve always thought explaining the ‘why’ would support the idea of following.

Now I’m not so sure a leader needs followers as much as thoughtful participants who engage with us in meaningful conversations.

What’s the question you’d most like your manager to answer?