Leadership: Be More Open and Less Directive, Start With These Words

Leadership: Be More Open and Less Directive, Start With These Words

Paul Sloane 05/09/2023
Leadership: Be More Open and Less Directive, Start With These Words

Effective leadership is not a static quality but an evolving practice.

In the 1970s, psychologist Matie Flowers carried out an experiment to study how teams discuss and make decisions.

Flowers asked 40 separate teams to come up with plans to solve a hypothetical problem at a school. This involved a mix of issues including staff conflicts, inadequate budgets and classroom discipline.

Each team consisted of four people who played different roles; superintendent, principal, counselor and parent representative. They were given different sets of information. The people playing the superintendents were given the leadership role in each group. The experiment hinged on the instructions that the superintendents were given. They were divided randomly into two groups and told to adopt either an open style or directive style.

Directive leaders were told to state their own proposed idea at the outset of the meeting and to stress that the team must agree on a decision. Open leaders, were instructed not to declare their preferred solution at first but to wait until every other team member had made their suggestions. Also the open leaders stressed that it was essential that all viewpoints should be discussed.

Recordings of the sessions were assessed by independent analysts. The findings were stark. Teams with open leaders shared more information and generated more ideas than teams with directive leaders. In fact they shared almost twice as many facts and came up with 25% more proposals.

The open leaders in Flowers’s study were picked at random and given only brief training. But their teams consistently outperformed the groups with directive leaders. If you adopt a more receptive, listening style in your meetings you will encourage and get more ideas than if you are firm and authoritative. You will likely get better solutions and a more rounded discussion of advantages and drawbacks

This example is examined in the book Meltdown by Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik. It reviews what we can learn from disastrous failures. In their summary of this study the authors say;

A few words can make a big difference. You can start a meeting like this: ‘The most important thing, I think, is that we all agree on our decision. Now, here is what I think could be done.’ But to avoid making a bad decision, it’s much better to say: ‘The most important thing is that we air all possible viewpoints to reach a good decision. Now, what does each of you think should be done?’

In today's dynamic and diverse workplaces, the traditional directive approach is gradually giving way to a more open and collaborative leadership style. Leaders who prioritize openness foster a culture of transparency, innovation, and trust among their teams.

To embark on this transformative leadership journey, start with these essential words that can reshape your leadership approach and bring out the best in your team.

1. Listen: The foundation of open leadership begins with active listening. Make a conscious effort to listen to your team members without interrupting or imposing your perspective. This simple yet powerful word signifies your willingness to understand their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.

2. Empower: Empowerment involves giving your team members the autonomy and authority to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Encourage them to explore their potential, share their insights, and contribute to the organization's growth.

3. Collaborate: Effective leaders recognize the strength of collaboration. Encourage a culture where team members collaborate, share knowledge, and work collectively towards common goals. Emphasize that every voice matters in shaping the team's success.

4. Support: Leadership is not just about setting objectives; it's about supporting your team in achieving them. Offer guidance, resources, and emotional support when needed. Show that you are genuinely invested in their success and well-being.

5. Adapt: In today's fast-paced world, adaptability is crucial. Be open to change and willing to adapt your leadership style to suit different situations and personalities. This flexibility enables your team to thrive in diverse circumstances.

6. Appreciate: Acknowledging and appreciating your team's efforts and achievements goes a long way in building morale and motivation. Express your gratitude regularly and let your team know that their hard work is recognized and valued.

7. Communicate: Clear and transparent communication is vital in open leadership. Keep your team informed about organizational goals, changes, and challenges. Encourage open dialogue and ensure that everyone has access to information.

8. Innovate: Open leaders foster a culture of innovation. Encourage your team to think creatively, explore new ideas, and challenge the status quo. Create an environment where calculated risks are embraced as opportunities for growth.

9. Mentor: Invest in the growth and development of your team members by offering mentorship and guidance. Share your experiences and insights to help them navigate their career paths.

10. Trust: Trust is the cornerstone of open leadership. Build trust by demonstrating consistency, integrity, and reliability. Trust empowers your team to collaborate and excel under your leadership.

Embracing open leadership is a journey that begins with a commitment to these transformative words. By practicing active listening, empowerment, collaboration, and transparency, you create an environment where your team members can thrive, innovate, and contribute their best. Start with these words, and you'll find that your leadership style evolves into one that inspires, motivates, and brings out the full potential of your team. Open leadership isn't just about leading; it's about enabling others to lead as well.

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Paul Sloane

Innovation Expert

Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.

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