When Silence is NOT Golden

silence is not goldenA friend recently shared with me his concern about how his CEO has managed to shut down free flowing discussion in the organization.  This CEO uses fear and intimidation to prod his team to achieve organizational goals and implement various strategies.  Over time, the CEO has managed to make an example of each individual staff member by using that person as a temporary “whipping person.”  The desire to not be embarrassed again in front of the rest of the team has created an environment where team members are unwilling to share new ideas and viewpoints that are contrary to the CEO’s thinking.

“Our staff meetings are very quiet,” said my friend.

The result of this type of leadership can be chilling.  Team members are demoralized and often leave the organization.  In this particular case, trust was non-existent, backbiting became a way of life, and behind the scenes politicking a necessity for survival.

Most leaders have a great deal of determination, a strong focus on results and a healthy ability to get things done.  All good characteristics except when the compelling desire to accomplish your agenda causes you to run roughshod over others, when blunt directives replace a willingness to listen and ask questions, and when a “ your way or the highway” approach quashes innovative thinking and creativity.

Leaders can stifle debate without even realizing it is happening.  Here are six important factors you need in your organization to ensure that silence doesn’t kill your team meetings:

  1. Build a diverse team. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to hire people like themselves.  You need diversity of thinking, gender and racial balance and a variety of personality types.  Build a culture where people embrace differences of opinion as healthy and not a breeding ground for unwanted conflict;
  2. Encourage different points of view. You will get the best product or approach by going through a process of getting multiple perspectives on the table. Create an environment where people truly believe that no idea is a bad idea.  You will be do this by;
  3. Don’t shoot down new ideas. I once had a boss who hated every idea the first time he heard it. Most people stopped giving him ideas.  I learned that I had to wait a few weeks or months and then bring the idea back again.  It usually resonated better the second time around.  Don’t kill creative thinking just because you don’t like someone’s thought.  Encourage them to pursue the idea.  If it is a bad idea, it will eventually die once the facts are collected.  You may be surprised to find that it was actually a good idea.  In either case, you are encouraging your team members to develop their thinking and pursue new thoughts and ideas;
  4. Be vulnerable. You will have far greater credibility with your team if you are willing to admit you don’t know something or a particular area is outside of your comfort zone or expertise. One of the best feelings I ever had as a manager was after I had been royally chewed out by a corporate executive.  In a follow-up meeting months later, the boss admitted she was wrong.  She even made the admission in front of one of my direct reports and called me a genius. I had the highest level of respect for that executive because of her willingness to admit she had made a mistake;
  5. Dare to be different. Be willing to take chances and implement ideas that team members have developed, even when they take you out of your comfort zone; and
  6. Share the spotlight. Make sure your team members get credit they deserve for innovative thinking.  The recognition you give today will be returned to you many times over in terms of future production, goodwill and even more innovative thinking down the road.

What are you doing to encourage vigorous discussion on your team, and building a culture of innovation and creativity?