Leadership Thoughts: Simple but Costly Blunders!

- Hardy Alexander
StartToday's Economic Times carried an article by Sudhanshu Palsule, CEO Advisor and Educator at Duke CE & INSEAD, "Attention, Leaders: Listen and Be Present".
The key message was, 'attention-deficit leaders are more likely to take decisions on incomplete data or not tune into what is really emerging around them ... in fast growing economies like India where the sheer speed of getting multiple things done at once, combined with a cultural tendency to hurry, overloads the brain which creates a deficit in the ability of leaders to think clearly .... combined with stress, it becomes a lethal recipe for 'Multi-Tasking' which simply doesn't work!'
Jan 02
 
Recently, I read an interesting article published by Centre for Creative Leadership, "Boundary Spanning Leadership". A line that caught my attention read - 86% of the senior executives in this study believe it is “extremely important” for them to work effectively across boundaries in their current leadership role. Yet, only 7% of these executives believe they are currently “very effective” at doing so.
 
I am reminded of couple of simple yet costly blunders we - as leaders make but are not aware till someone points them out! In my case, it was my team members who subtly hinted a possible area of improvement. I am sure, you will easily relate to these situations at your workplace too!
 
Multi-Tasking is indeed a Myth
 
As Manager Strategic Planning for FedEx Express - handling multiple functions across Europe, Middle East & Africa region - I was definitely juggling my time between various demands at work. Part of my team members worked out of different cities hence connecting on phone was the natural way to communicate with each other including conference calls during team discussions.
 
While on the phone, it was natural to quickly glance at the incoming mail on my laptop and make sure there are no items that demand my immediate attention.
 
While I was 'hearing' my team member(s) on the phone, I definitely wasn't listening. When I asked them 'Can you repeat that again, I missed the last line' - I wasn't actually paying attention because I was so busy responding to that 'Urgent' mail.
 
As Leaders, we think that was a smart statement to make and get away but in reality, the person on the other side is smart enough to assess that we weren't listening. This simple yet costly blunder greatly impacts our credibility as a Leader.
 
It was a simple solution but I started seeing the impact of my small action almost instantly - every time I got on a phone call (the fact that I continue speaking indicates that I have chosen to give the call more priority than any other work I was doing), I would move away from my laptop, acknowledged or paraphrased what I heard and engaged in the conversation. I was spending less time on the call itself because I was listening with an intent to LISTEN! More important, each time I felt the urge to speak out of turn, I would put the phone on 'Mute' and curb my desire to barge in and disrupt the other person's thought process.
 
A similar situation arises when we are having a face-to-face communication with people who walk into our office either for a planned or unplanned meeting. The fact that I chose to engage in a conversation shows that I am willing to give more priority to the meeting. I either close my laptop or move it aside and put my mobile on 'mute' to avoid any distraction. Moving my laptop aside also creates a positive body language - the laptop or any other item (can't avoid the table between us) serves as a barrier and psychologically disrupts an open communication.
 
Do you encounter similar situations at workplace? I am assuming you already have a solution, else you could benefit from the simple remedies I recommended above.
Simple yet powerful leadership lessons learnt from daily life - Listen, Pay Attention! It may seem like we are losing time however, having decided to be on that call or agree to meet the person face-to-face, our objective should be to make most of the time together.
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Jan 02