But beyond these basics, wise leaders use even nuanced skills to encourage the creativity, initiative and talents in their team. Here are five ways to elicit more by doing less:
1. Explore their ideas first. Discipline yourself not to jump in with your solution to a problem. Let it be their idea. If you really can’t restrain yourself, offer your idea tentatively, then invite their reaction. This habit takes time to change, because our culture rewards those who are first with the correct answer. (You probably wouldn’t be in a management position if you hadn’t learned this skill!) But knowing when not to use it will bring out hidden strengths in your team.
2. Stay away from sneaky questions that imply you have a better solution. When you ask, “Have you tried…?” you’ve just announced your opinion. Employees might not want to admit they haven’t thought of the idea their manager obviously likes, so they may react defensively: “Yeah, I did, but…” Instead, ask, “What have you considered so far?”
3. Ask one question at a time, then stop. Slow down. Don’t ask another one until you get a response. You’re not in a courtroom, and they’re not the defendants –though they may feel like it, if you volley a series of rapid-fire questions at them. The more questions you ask, the more you’re speaking—giving them an excuse not to think for themselves.
4. Don’t add your brilliant insight to their idea. This sounds counter-intuitive, especially if you’ve taken creativity and brainstorming workshops where you’re drilled to piggyback on someone else’s idea. But when you’re the boss, there’s a power difference, and by improving on their idea, you’re actually squelching it. Once you’ve injected your idea, it’s gone from 100% theirs to 50%. By robbing them of pride of ownership, you’ve diluted their commitment.
5. Avoid answering your own question. This often happens when the silence becomes intolerable. “What do you propose we do about the budget?” you ask, to silence. Your stomach begins to growl—loudly. “Well,” you say, “one thing we could do is….” No! Growl! Breathe! Remain silent, and be willing to feel uncomfortable.
6. Don’t necessarily finish their sentences. When employees are searching for a word, it’s tempting to fill it in, especially when you’re rushed. Experiment with letting them fumble around for the exact term they’re seeking. Sometimes, completing their thought is a way of rescuing them.
Shutting up doesn’t mean avoiding conflict, retreating behind closed doors, or withdrawing behind the digital moat of technology. It means letting your employees shine—at your expense, sometimes. Don’t be afraid to be humble. There’ll be other opportunities where you can take the credit. For now, shut up and let your stomach growl.
Louisa Rogers is a California-based leadership trainer and coach. She has trained senior executives and business owners in the U.S., Mexico and internationally. She can be reached at louisarogers.vpweb.com or firstname.lastname@example.org