A big mistake leaders make with their team

Here’s something you might find useful in your consultant, business developer, or leadership role. It’s wisdom that comes from 20 years facilitating meetings in big companies.

It wasn’t until I switched my career from Sales Leader to Consultant that I noticed many leaders spoke more than their staff during meetings.

As a coach I was in a unique position to ask them about this behaviour. It turns out they were usually unaware of it, and also at some level believed part of their role to be ‘the smartest person in the room.’

So, I would joke with them that ‘the whole room’ was really the smartest person, not them. Their job wasn’t to be the smartest, it was to draw out the smarts. Then perhaps to make decisions, or better still enable actions.

You’ll find that most people have never come across this way of thinking and working. It’s the opposite of what they think they get rewarded for.

In fact my second joke with corporate leaders was to ask why they paid their staff so much – after all if they just wanted an audience to show how smart they were … well surely their staff should be paying them. After all they were doing their expensive staff’s thinking for them.

Ways to use inquiry and avoid the advocacy trap

As a consultant you may have seen similar behaviours. You might also notice yourself doing the same thing from time to time. Pushing ideas forward first, talking too much, oversharing etc. We all do it. Smarty pants advocacy is an easy trap to fall into.

So here are six top tips for better behaviour in meetings:

  1. Go last. Before contributing to the answer, invite and encourage others to give their views first. Sometimes your biggest contribution is to synthesise and summarise.
  2. Ask questions that challenge and deepen other’s contribution and your understanding. Tell me more, what led you to that conclusion?
  3. Invite inquiry from others. Facilitate the group to ask each other questions that go deeper. What are your thoughts on what was just said?
  4. Make your thinking explicit when you do speak and ask others to do the same. Here is my point-of-view and this is how how I arrived at it.
  5. Encourage others to challenge to your views. What gaps do you see in my argument?
  6. And, signpost if you want to “think out loud”. Let people know that’s what you are doing – otherwise it’s confusing for the listener.

Just remember some people will sit back and let you do all the work, unless you make them think and speak for themselves.

Final tip. A top-secret, coach’s hack.
When you feel the urge to interrupt the flow of another person’s thinking (even to agree, to add your ideas, anything) push the tip of your tongue up into the roof of your mouth.

I do this all the time (seriously) and am often (very often) surprised to hear the other person say exactly want I was thinking and about to interrupt with.