The Smartest Leadership Strategy: Say Nothing

Most leaders’ natural reaction to low team performance is to take charge. They view this as their job: to set direction and lead. However, in many cases, this is actually the completely wrong approach.  Sometimes the strongest and smartest approach is to sit back, stay silent and say nothing. 

Being the strongest voice in the room is a typical success strategy.  Leaders have a way of getting heard, above all others, even when they are not formally in charge.  And this is not bad.  There is a place for setting direction among the many opinions in the rooms. There is a place for taking charge when no one else has the will to do so. 

However, often this same instinct to take charge can undermine the team. I’ve watched hundreds of leaders in live action with their teams over the years.  And most of them talk way too much. Yes, there are also introverts in leadership positions – I have watched and spoken to many of them who talk a lot too – they say that they have taught themselves to speak up more, be more vocal, because they know that helps them succeed.   

Many of these leaders suffer with teams that are not teams but just slaves to the demands of their leaders.

Saying nothing is more powerful. Saying nothing allows the team to struggle with their points of view.  Saying nothing shows you trust your team to work it out.  Saying nothing lets you and your team learn.

I’ve told many executives in meetings with their teams to “wait a minute, let’s hear from the team.” They struggle and squirm and you can see the pain on their face. But then something magical happens.  Their team gets it strength. Issues, ideas and innovations emerge. They finally have the fire of internal combustion at work for them.  The team begins to care much more about solving the real business challenges. They are all in.

The leaders benefit too.  They start getting what they asked for: a team with a ‘mind of their own’, to take initiative and solve problems.  The longer they stay silent, the more they get out of it.  This past month I had 2 executives who told me after many hours of letting the team work out problems, that “it’s amazing how much I can hear when I just shut my mouth!” 

However, if you use the say nothing strategy and the teams fail to rally and address the issues you are facing, then of course you must take charge. Additionally, you must take these three steps to reset the culture:

1. Reinforce that you want your team to have a ‘mind of its own’, to not sit around waiting for orders at every turn but develop a virtual mind of their own, serving as a compass for what to do as they encounter unforeseen opportunities and challenges.

2. Ask them what they need from you, and others on the team, to enable them to achieve this. Then ‘say nothing’- really listen and do what’s needed.

3. Give straight feedback to individuals and hold them accountable to your team vision. And if they can’t do what’s needed, it’s time to look for new people.

If you want 8 questions to ask to see what is it that is preventing your team from creating Swing (near perfect synchronicity), download The Swing Measurement at www.thepowerofswing.com

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