Have you ever been in a meeting where as soon as the most senior leader in the room starts to share what they think, the brainstorming and volleying of ideas cease? The conversation becomes completely reoriented around their thoughts. Most leaders, including me, feel like it is our job to state the challenge or opportunity and offer some solutions, then ask what the rest of the team thinks. However, this leads to a situation called groupthink, which is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility. This is why great leaders speak last. This leadership best practice improves workplace culture by simply letting the team know they are heard.
A true leader in a group is rarely the person who talks the most. It is not the one on a power trip. It is the person who listens the best. Effective leaders know that active listening is more than hearing what is said. It is noticing what isn’t said. It is being aware of facial expressions and body language. Acknowledging varying personality types, inviting dissenting views, and recognizing vocal people while also amplifying the voices of quieter types are acts of transformational leadership.
Creating Space for All to Be Heard
When it comes to meetings, leadership expert and author Simon Sinek has great advice for leaders. “The best leaders speak last. The skill to hold your opinions till everyone else has spoken does two things: One, it gives everyone else the feeling they have been heard. It makes everyone else feel that they have contributed. And two, you get the benefit of hearing what everyone else has to think before you render your opinion.” Culture thrives when everyone feels empowered to contribute.
When you wait to hear what your team is going to say, you’re giving its individual members a chance to grow into leaders who can feel comfortable sharing their opinions with each other. It builds team morale and builds more productive discussions because studies have proven that the best teams choose conflict over cohesion and more frequently debate with each other. When you take on the leadership challenge of speaking last it can encourage your team members to challenge each other’s ideas in the most constructive ways.
In her blog, Why great leaders speak last, Luba Koziy shares a great tip on how leaders can engage collaboration from their teams in meetings, “First, don’t drop an anchor. A group tends to latch onto the first thing said in a meeting. That’s one reason the outspoken individual’s comment was so persuasive — it created an anchor that the rest of the conversation circled around.” She notes that the validity of this verbal anchor isn’t as important as it is “dropped” first. “What follows an anchor is a series of adjustments: Each subsequent comment inevitably relates to the anchor comment, until everyone reaches a compromised solution. This is also known as the “anchoring and adjustment” mental heuristic.”
When the leader speaks last, it shows that they value the opinions and ideas of their team members. It demonstrates their willingness to listen and consider everyone’s input before making a final decision. A leader offering emotional intelligence and trust to their team members typically gains greater influence with them–arguably one of the most important aspects of leadership–in the most transparent and authentic way.
Listening as if You Are Wrong
So how do we have constructive conversations without fear of them turning ugly? We need to train ourselves not to defend our ideas, but rather, explore new ones. One of the best things I have ever heard, but one of the hardest to do, is to “listen as if you are wrong” whether talking to an irate customer, significant other, or anyone who has a different opinion than yours. I might be the only person who argues with someone who agrees with me. I get worried when everyone in the conversation appears to have the same opinions. That is when I try to play devil’s advocate to ensure we are not being narrow-minded or falling prey to groupthink.
Making this approach an integral part of your leadership style is vital. When your leaders learn and practice this style of higher-level communication, it will naturally lead to a superior employee experience.
Empathy: A Leader’s Superpower
We spend much of our time trying to understand what our customers, employees, significant others, and children really mean by what they say or don’t say. Too often we try to analyze, decode, or judge without ever knowing what is going on.
“Empathy is a real-life human superpower,” says Dr. Ali Hill, sociologist, and emotional intelligence evangelist. “When we truly empathize with others, we come as close to reading minds as humans can get. When we turn off our analysis mechanisms and instead just listen and attempt to think from the other person’s point of view, the message becomes much clearer. When we empathize, we can actually feel the other person’s feelings.” It’s when we can experience a situation from someone else’s viewpoint—utilizing the power of empathy—that we gain an inherent understanding of what they are saying.
Empathy is especially effective when paired with compassion. Compassion is the desire to help another person. Together empathy and compassion are the two most powerful soft skills employees can have. When you genuinely serve with compassion and empathy, your leadership rises to a completely different level. The challenge for most companies is how to teach these skills to their leaders and employees. How do you make them more than mere buzzwords and platitudes? The answer is by having your leaders constantly put themselves in the shoes of the employee. When you truly understand the employees’ plight and what they’re going through, the level of understanding deepens, and the importance of each interaction becomes crystal clear.
The ability to see things from the perspective of others is key to making a connection, building a relationship, and achieving overall business success. It allows you to explore other people’s viewpoints and the possibility that your own opinion may be incorrect. Having empathy, experts say, improves your leadership, teaches you to ask the right questions, boosts teamwork, and allows you to understand your customers. It is a powerful gift to the entire team. And it is essential in building an above-and-beyond culture.
Optimal Employee Environments and Customer Experiences Start with Leaders
Forging strong relationships relies on all these skills—being interested in someone else’s life, truly listening, and practicing empathy and compassion. They’re the building blocks of becoming a great leader. Leaders who speak last can create a more collaborative and inclusive environment for success, one that fosters open communication and encourages diverse perspectives. It leads to better decision-making overall and ultimately affects every customer’s experience.
Episode 116 of the CSRev Podcast
Chief Revolution Officer John DiJulius of the DiJulius Group talks with author Anthony Milia, founder of Milia Marketing and author of Marketing Magnifier: More Insight. More Measurable Growth. More Customers.
You will learn:
- What Marketing Magnifier is and how it is different from other marketing books
- Some of the most common marketing mistakes Milia sees businesses making
- The tools Milia recommends for businesses looking to improve their marketing or add to their Marketing Tech Stack
- How does lack of process affect and impacts the client experience
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Be the best decision your customers make.”
CX VIDEO CLIP OF THE WEEK
Check out this two-minute video on Train the Whole Employee