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May 12

Use Your Outside Voices - Lessons in Leadership


In: Strategy Insights

It’s highlighted in every business self-help book, career growth chart and presidential debate. Leadership. We all generally know what it means, but it’s still a pretty elusive term. If you picture a leader in your head, it’s likely that you’ll think of a successful CEO or beloved politician. Someone with authority and power. Someone who has it all together and knows how to make decisions.

The worst leaders would love for you to see it this way. They need to convince their followers that they’re confident, strong and know exactly what they’re doing. So, more often than not, they make statements instead of pose questions in order to maintain their position of power and assuredness.

And then there are actual leaders — the ones who lead with a question mark. They’re brave enough to try new things, challenge themselves and trek on ahead, aiming to learn along the way. They regularly reach into the minds of the people around them to find the best ideas, seeking voices outside themselves and empowering their team to solve problems.

This open-minded approach is especially essential in the ever-evolving digital space. In this landscape of emerging technology, it’s just not possible for one person to keep up. Across the constantly growing internet of things, ever-changing web design and UI trends, real-time everything and heightened focus on security as mobile continues to take over, it’s clear that it now takes a village to raise a website.

If you’re a manager of people, officially or unofficially, and want to grow your influence while releasing your team to reach their full potential, give them a voice. When you’re ready to do that, there are some core truths you’ll have to embrace:

You don’t know everything.

If you ever get to the point where you feel like the people you work with can’t offer you anything, you’re in a bad spot. Either your colleagues are actually dumb and you should quit your job or you’ve gotten a little too arrogant for your britches. Climb down off your horse and admit that you don’t have all the good ideas. Acknowledge that someone else might have a better solution, even if they’re less experienced, younger or not even on your team. Once you admit this to yourself, you’ll feel like a moron for NOT asking people for their ideas. Think of all you’ve been missing!

The culture is your responsibility.

Once you acknowledge that you need other humans, you may have the tough job of shifting your culture. People aren’t going to start offering their opinions, ideas and feedback just because you’re now open to it. You have to be intentional about asking the questions. It’s YOUR job, Company Owner, Creative Director, Project Manager, to foster this collaborative environment. It will not happen organically. Once people buy in to this culture, you’ve got something really great! People who feel like their ideas will be heard put brainpower into coming up with great ideas. You’ve now opened the door for people to think beyond their job title and be proactively creative. And you’ll get to reap the benefits of this new forward-thinking, problem-solving culture. (By the way, people who get to contribute feel ownership, which is key to employee retention.)

Creativity isn’t born in your comfort zone.

Finally, be brave. Too many people don’t ask the question because they’re afraid of the answer. What if the answer challenges what I think or prefer? What if it’s against my own agenda, would take more time or cost more money? It’s possible that when you start asking questions, the answers won’t be sparkling approvals of everything you’ve been doing. Accept the challenge. Commit to finding the right answer, not just your favorite one. Because ultimately, what if you never do anything outside of what originates in your own single little brain?

Don’t just listen to your own voice. Use your outside voices.

And if you don’t know where to start, here are some questions to kick you off:

  • What do you think about this?
  • How would you adjust this process?
  • Is this still the best way to do this?
  • How could we solve this?
  • What would you do in this scenario?
  • Which one is your favorite?
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