THE BLOG
04/03/2013 01:44 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2013

Leading More by Talking Less

Who in your organization knows the most about how to make it better?

Generally, it's not the managers or leaders -- it's the people doing the actual work.

So as a manager or leader, if you're the one doing a lot of "telling" or "talking" when you're with them, you're failing by omission -- by not hearing what you need to know to be the best leader you can be, and do right by them and your organization.

As you're likely more experienced than they, or are "older / wiser," you will probably be telling or talking (stuck on transmit) "in the interest of time," or so that "they don't have to repeat the same mistakes," or because you want them to "do it right."

The net effect of your transmit-heavy ways is that the people with the most information won't step up and tell you important things you need to know -- the good, bad, or ugly of what's really going on -- or make suggestions for constructive change, because they have to try too hard to get a word in with you, or even get your attention.

I see this often: Many executives believe their role is to "know," "know better," and/or to have more answers than questions with those junior to them -- and they'd be wrong in all instances except when the junior person simply doesn't have a necessary piece of information or a skill.

In my work as an executive's coach, I like to observe them as they do their thing. With their employees, the transmit-heavy exec will tend to be expounding, describing, recounting, theorizing, explaining, or even lecturing. Their people sit politely, nod, and tend not to come forward with their own issues, expert ideas or solutions, ones that are highly informed by the here and now of what's going on in the real world.

Interestingly, my executive client will tell me it's like pulling teeth to get people to tell him or her what's not working, and what could be done about it. They do not recognize it's their own transmit-bias causing the clam-up epidemic.

To coach the alternative, I ask my transmit-prone executive to observe while I ask a quieter member of their team a long series of questions about how to get from Point A to Point B, what's holding them back, how they would solve the problem, and what specific recommendations for change they would make. I ask them to tell me what else I should be asking but have not yet asked. I ask them to teach me and explain it to me in simple terms, and with patience. If there are silences, I let them be until they talk. Of course, my transmit-prone executive client is squirming impatiently.

Yet when they see their previously clammed up people step forward when given good questions and plenty of "receive"-time (that is, good listening, and "letting the silence do the heavy lifting," as Susan Scott said), they are surprised, and then they get it.

Monitoring your own transmit-to-receive ratio, and moving more toward 80/20 (at the receive end of the scale), is a powerful and simple way toward great leadership.