For organizations to thrive in today’s fast-moving economies, employees need to be fully engaged and pursuing excellence – whether in customer service, product enhancement or process improvement. Many leaders are frustrated that their staffs seem to be just doing the same old thing, rather than boldly taking charge of issues and opportunities and creating new solutions.
Why is this? One underlying reason is that many people have difficulty communicating with leaders, because the differences in rank and status are often intimidating. Most of us were raised to believe that authority is to be respected, and we have been criticized for mistakes by parents, teachers and bosses. Unless the organization’s culture actively encourages communicating “up” and taking risks, most people follow standard procedures to avoid failing and being punished. So the same old problems persist into the future.
How can you, as a leader, overcome these limiting patterns that hold talented people back? First, be sure you have clearly engaged them with the organization’s goals that focus their efforts; next, create a climate that welcomes communication, innovation and learning. So how can you foster the growth of a culture of learning?
- Create conditions of safety in which people can try new approaches without fear of failing. How? Encourage staff to use their best judgment and experiment – to try new approaches and learn what happens.
- Ask questions! Talk with your employees; ask them what they are working on and what challenges they face — and really listen! This means you are encouraging them to do the talking and you are doing a lot of listening – and learning.
- Appreciate people for demonstrating the courage to try something new, for daring to be learners, even if the results fall a bit short. Focus on what staff members are learning and can build on to achieve organization goals – and which they can now teach to others.
- Avoid asking questions that can cause defensiveness. Do ask, “What happened with . . .?” rather than, “Why didn’t you . . . ?“ You may discover that most disappointing results were made with good intentions and were based on a logical assessment – both of which may be invisible to you. Most people want to be successful.
- Take time to celebrate new achievements and the teams and individuals who created them. Make visible that you support people being innovative and taking intelligent chances — and being learners on behalf of the organization’s success.
Consider engaging us to work with you to customize a leadership coaching project. The result? Possibly an organization culture of self-starters. Wouldn’t that be great!