Article by Nick Roud, Executive Coach, New Zealand
Ask, Don’t Tell!
When we look at real leadership what do we mean?
We are talking about the leaders who do the little things well. Peter Drucker spoke about the next phase of leadership was ‘those who could develop knowledge workers’. My understanding of knowledge workers would be any professional that is hired into an organisation to help it move forwards.
They are, or, will the organisations greatest asset. Hopefully with strong on-boarding and healthy two way conversations with their Manager that hire should understand, have their finger on the pulse and know what, where and how things operate. They in theory must know more than the executive and be given the space to voice thought otherwise why hire that individual in the first place. Do the work yourself!
My thoughts therefore turn to the role and responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), should therefore if they hire the right people into the right positions at the right time need to fully know what is going on in say Supply Chain? I personally do not think so, again your role as the CEO is to hire great, exceptional talent, set the vision and let them own it.
The CEOs job will be made a great deal easier if he/she can listen, ask, direct and course correct should it be needed. They must learn to appreciate what the knowledge work is sharing back to them. They must deeply listen to make sure the knowledge worker is where they need to be not wondering off down a different pathway. The CEO must keep addressing the vision of the organisation, sharing where things are, what is going well, what needs attention etc.
Let’s say the CEO is called into a Supply Chain meeting. Once acknowledgements have been established, the CEO should quietly sit and listen to what is being shared rather than rushing in to take over proceedings, barking opinions, telling the Supply Chain team what they need to do, what must be fixed. That division reports to the Supply Chain Director. The buck therefore will stop with that executive.
I am often called into organisations to coach CEOs, executives and emerging leaders, during my observations sessions which are part of my coaching work I witness many different aspects of that leader and I am observing everything (all 5 senses are on tighten alert). What is being said, what isn’t being said, what is the mood of the room, is their trust, are people doing good work, are people genuinely wanting to be in the room or are they just kicking tires so to say. My focus is on the CE, executive and or emerging leader and my attention is on them but the room will tell me a great deal about how effective the leader is or isn’t and we will de-brief that in due course.
The immature leader will naturally want to take over the show, they want everyone to hear how smart, intelligent and clever they are (or not in some cases). The mature leader will acknowledge, listen, agree, challenge, and congratulate all. An effective leader will sit quietly within those divisional meetings, observe what is being said, sense what isn’t being said and be able to pin point the elephant in the room aka what isn’t being said. That effective leader could not possibly do anything if they are the ones solely speaking. They would drown out others, they would quickly lose any trust, momentum and or ability for that division to really come together. Post that meeting the CEO will sit 1:1 with the Supply Chain Director and work through a series of thoughts that will enable the Supply Chain Director to keep progressing forwards, those 1:1s are more relationship building, building on trust, building on healthy conversation and ultimately making both parties better.
As you mature in your leadership getting comfortable with quiet is going to serve you well. I recall recently sitting with a CEO in my office, our coaching agenda was to discuss a few matters but instead she came in, we put the kettle on and she said Nick I just need to sit. So for the next 60mins we just sat, quietly sat, she and I drank our coffees and not a word was spoken. As I lent in and said that is our time she looked at me, smiled and said thank you, I just needed to sit and be. What a privilege to have shared that precious time with her. She slowed right down, she felt more connected to herself than when she arrived. A few days later I checked I with her and congratulated her for just sitting and being. She now regularly blocks time out in her dairy for quiet time!
Have you ever people watched just sat somewhere and watched? Nicola and I visited Paris years ago before we had children and we sat on one of the very busy streets, shared fries, coffee and hot chocolate and for a few hours we just sat their and watched the hustle & bustle roll out before our eyes. It was refreshing just to pause and stop. To enjoy company and enjoy the very best fries we had ever tasted in the world. The French have a deep love for Kiwis and a deep hatred to the English, so I shut up, smiled and nodded accordingly. It was an educational experience and one I reflect on often as I am observing my clients in their meetings, I regularly ask myself Nick, what is actually being said, what are the burning question, how are the two people and or room behaving towards each other. what is going really well, does the elephant in the room need a cuddle!
I am confident we have at sometime in our careers worked for a manager who would think nothing about asking you a question, rather they would jump right in and tell you what you should do, think and or say. Have you worked for a boss like that? It was in a recent coaching session I was working with the ELT (Executive Leadership Team) of a listed business here in New Zealand. The team individually were brilliant, smart, high achievers, really good in their silo. When the ELT would come together it was fair to say that they were dysfunctional, all over the place, a ship without a sail……Nobody was listening, everyone was talking over each other, everyone wanted only to hear their own voice. After about 45mins I had had enough, I stood up, packed my journal book and pen, said thank you and walked out the boardroom and closed the door behind me. We had planned a 4 hour session so for me to up sticks and leave after 45mins was a huge reality check for one and all!
The CE followed me out of the room, Nick, what’s wrong, where you going, is everything ok?
Wrong, what’s wrong Andy your team are not a team, they are a complete bunch of sole traders. You Andy have lost the room, you have allowed this behaviour to occur and you are the one who needs to fix it. So get back in there and fix it. (My role as their leadership coach was to bring about more awareness of how the leader perceived themself, how they interacted with others and how they functioned as a ELT. (my focus was to ensure Andy had no room to wiggle, his 360 feedback shared that he was to nice a leader, he wasn’t able to say No, he was reluctant to have difficult conversations, you get the picture). My role was to spark him into life, that it was ok to say No, that he could have deep courageous conversations whilst leading and he didn’t need to please everyone!) You see to be an effective leader we have to start at the very top, that behaviour, language, avoidance etc ripples across and through an organisation quickly…..it starts by asking questions!
Ok, Nick but come back on in and let’s carry on. (it made the point that needed to be said) no-one in the room was being mature, respectful and it had to come to a stop right now.
When we both re entered the room, I took my seat in the corner and took out my journal book and pen, Andy stood up and spoke from the heart about why he took on the CEO role, what his intent was for the organisation, the people, the product, how he felt he had the right people in the room but they were not a team (yet) and how he would ensure they did come together as one. You could hear a pin drop, the entire leadership team sat there and just listened to Andy command the room. He then went around each and every person and asked them, Why are you here? The meeting was a huge success and it went on for a lot longer than our intended 4hours…..
Over the next 8 months we regularly met and discussed his progress, how he was taking on control, how he was influencing his direct reports, how he was effectively leading himself and others, he grew that day and whilst he shared with me he felt scared he didn’t show any signs of it. He just sat and kept asking questions.
To be a leader you must allow for quiet and ask the right questions. Get to the real root cause and then thrash out solutions. Only when you listen can you actually take action. Effective leaders don’t just speak they ask.
If you are interested in finding out more about leadership coaching for yourself and or organisation then let’s have a confidential chat and see what comes from that email@example.com or call +6421375630.
Nick, Master Certified Executive Coach MCEC
Nick Roud Coaching.
Awarded Most Outstanding Executive Coaching Consultancy New Zealand at the 2024 Global Business Awards