Development, Leadership, Mentorship

Sitting down and listening is important, but are you encouraging others to stand up?

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A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an article on LinkedIn and its title grabbed my attention:

“Leadership is what it takes to stand up and speak. Leadership is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

I agreed with the statement (and the authors position), but I had a gut feeling that something was missing…

When I told one of my mentors that I was feeding a squirrel everyday, her first response was, “You need a cat.” When I went on to explain that I was beginning to write a blog about said squirrel (named Chip), and the tips and tricks of leadership, her second response was, “LeaderChip!” It was brilliant. Not only was I jealous of the fact that I hadn’t come up with it myself, I was also smacked right in the forehead with a concerning thought; I had not been thinking of Chip as a leader.

Here’s what’s missing from the article’s title/statement:

“Leadership is what it takes to stand up and speak. Leadership is also what it takes to sit down and listen [while others are standing].”

When it comes to leadership practices and the impact of body-language, we are often taught to address each other on equal levels. Both standing, everyone sitting, eye-to-eye, those types of scenarios. And while this approach is appropriate in most cases, it is important for you as the leader to encourage your team members to be the ones standing. Instead of thinking of the act of sitting as something that creates or equates a hierarchy (because we all have egos, and let’s face it, some are better managed than others), think of the act of sitting as being a strong platform. Sit down and listen, but create a stage for your team member to stand on.

To be a great leader, you must acknowledge that you are not the only leader on the team.

During your weekly check-ins, ask yourself these 3 questions: 

1. How many leaders did I identify this week?

2. How many times was I a stage this week? 

3. How can I get more team members to stand on the stage next week? 

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1. How many leaders did I identify this week?

The answer could be 0 or 11. Neither is greater than the other. What matters is how you respond to the answer. Either way, you need to move on to the next step and shift from identification to development. Use your answer as motivation, not confirmation.

2. How many times was I a stage this week? 

It’s time for some self-reflection. Think back to that budget meeting and the conversation you had at lunch on Wednesday. You may have been listening, but did others feel that they had the option to stand? Did you finish eating your sandwich alone because your co-worker raced off in excitement to start that new project?  If you can’t remember whether or not you were a brightly-lit stage during that budget meeting, chances are you weren’t, and it might be time to check to see how sturdy your stage is. Everyone needs a strong platform, including you!

3. How can I get more team members to stand on the stage next week? 

This one is a nice follow up to question #1, and it will probably challenge you the most. Whether your answer was 0 or 11, your next step is to focus on development. Your numbers will fluctuate and so should your methods of engagement. Do you as the manager need to present the budget report? Or, can one of your team members do it? This isn’t about shouldering your responsibilities onto someone else, and keep in mind that there is a fine line between pushing someone outside of their comfort zone and making someone feel vulnerable and misplaced, but take the time to think about how you can not only share the limelight, but let someone else be the star of the show. 

As I watch Chip try to find the perfect spot to store the peanut in his mouth, I no longer pat myself on the back for being the one who gave him the peanut to begin with. Instead, I think about how a leader like Chip could probably teach me a thing-or-two about an RRSP and/or investing for the future… Maybe Chip would like to present next week’s budget report!

Sitting down and listening is the easy part, but how do you encourage others to stand up?




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