In creating culture on purpose, leaders have to lead, right?
Right. But leading doesn’t always mean going first.
Of course leaders have to exemplify the culture they’re trying to create. If they want their people to be honest, they have to be honest. If they want their organization to be nimble, they have to be nimble. If they want rapid innovation, they have to normalize failure by admitting their own mistakes openly, publicly, and frequently.
If they’re not there yet — if, for example, they want rapid innovation but have a hard time accepting failure — they must at least be working toward being the kind of leader the vision requires.
But sometimes leaders need to go last.
When we facilitate team meetings, we usually meet first with the leader to discuss goals and processes. That also gives us a chance to tell the leader to let others respond to our prompts first.
When the leader nevertheless goes first (because leaders lead, right?), we have 15 different elegant ways of saying, “That’s good, thanks! But since we’re all here, let’s talk about that some more.” If the team is meeting without us, we can help by assigning the order in which team members should speak.
In our deadline-driven environment, teams often arrive at the wrong decision quickly. Often the best way to do so is to let the leader go first.
If you are the leader, open the meeting, set up the question or issue, and then sit back. Let everyone else go first.
If you are a team member, take a chance by asking for more discussion when people quickly follow the leader’s point of view without question.
Whatever your role, develop your listening skills.
Leaders: What’s hard for you about letting everyone else go first? What benefits can you envision? Are those benefits worth the effort of holding back to hear others’ opinions first? Why or why not?
Team members: What’s hard for you about speaking up?