Leadership – “bringing people around softly” and speaking last

The other day I was talking with a business owner about her people management practices. In comparing some thoughts about how to effectively supervise people she noted that waving your finger and giving instructions was almost always a non-starter. She said that she thought that “people need to be brought around softly”.

By this, she explained, she meant that expressing herself quietly and with more questions than statements engaged her staff in the thought process of the business. This approach gave them the space to think and the opportunity to ask clarifying or re-framing questions. She also readily admitted that though she might imagine that she is bringing them around to her point of view, as often as not, the engagement revealed a better solution.

This “softly” approach requires humility and confidence on the part of the manager. You have to be willing to admit in practice that you might not have the best answer and the confidence in yourself and your staff that together you can find a best solution.

All of these thoughts reminded me of a leadership practice that I have found to be invaluable. Speak last. The leader who speaks first or even early almost inevitably poisons the well. Others, on hearing the thoughts of a leader, tend to fall into line, or find their thoughts more taken up with reacting to the leader’s stated opinion, than thinking afresh about the issues at hand. By stating the issues as clearly and factually as possible to set the frame of the problem but not stating any opinion, the leader then opens the floor to debate from staff. As noted earlier, this requires humility and self-confidence. But, the big pay off is how frequently this approach reveals a better solution to the problem with the extra benefit of a high level of staff buy in to the approach. After all, they participated in solving the problem. The solution is their solution. Finally, by the by, I have noticed how frequently my initial solution, that I did not reveal, was wrong. The engaged discussion developed a much better approach to the problem.