Listening is a powerful leadership practice. One way to stop any complaints from your team about your listening skills is to use a participative leadership style. This is a style of leadership that actively seeks out input and ask for ideas. Some leaders do this naturally and others need to flex to this style. One study revealed that 96% of direct reports say their leader is effective when using this style. Be cautious not to overdo it though. A leader who asks for input too much is at risk for earning a reputation as wishy-washy or indecisive.
Here are 3 times when a participative style is most effective:
Change – Every leader has to navigate through change at some point and most of us are dealing with it on a continuous basis. The key to getting people to come along with the least resistance is to open up the conversation and ask them what they think. It’s normal for your team to have questions when faced with change and they want answers. If they can’t ask you, they’ll get their information through the rumor mill. While the rumor mill is an effective way for information to spread, it isn’t always the most accurate or positive.
You can control the narrative and get ahead of any fake news by communicating with your team directly. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. Get the answers and follow up with them. Acceptance comes faster when people have a chance to ask their questions and express their concerns. And that is exactly why some leaders want to avoid these conversations – they can’t handle the pushback. Don’t let that get in the way of you earning the reputation as an effective leader. A little short-term discomfort is worth the benefits you’ll get by helping your team get on board with change faster.
Goals – Have you ever noticed a lack of enthusiasm when you tell your team what their goals* are? A truth of human nature is that people tend to put more energy into their own ideas than yours. So, when you present your team with their goal’s they may not be that interested in achieving them. Let them take the lead if you want better results. This doesn’t mean that you get to wash your hands of this process. But instead of dictating it you will guide it.
(*Note: I’m not talking about their key performance measures. KPM’s are the job expectations for completing their work and those should be set by you without their input. Goals are extra assignments that go above and beyond their regular duties.)
If you want to stir up energy around goals, get the team involved. Conduct a goal-setting workshop and share the department or organizational direction and let them come up with their own goals. Not only will this take a big burden off of you, you’ll notice a broader variety of ideas as well.
Processes – Have you ever been in situation where a process you were responsible for was updated without anyone asking for your input? How did you feel about that? If you are like most people in that situation, you probably felt pretty frustrated. Maybe even disrespected. You are the subject matter expert after all.
You can avoid this demotivating scenario by asking for input from the people who actually do the process day in and day out. That doesn’t mean you won’t make changes they don’t agree with but at least you gave them a chance to voice their opinions. Don’t underestimate the value of giving people the opportunity to do that.
Those are the three most common situations where seeking input is critical to getting buy-in. Pay attention for a week to see if you are using this style appropriately.
When you utilize the participative leadership style in these specific areas, you will be seen by your team and others as an effective leader. You will get more done, you will be more efficient, and no one can complain that you don’t listen.