I am a marketing manager at large consumer goods manufacturing company. I have ten direct reports and a couple of dotted-line people who work on big internal communications projects. Things move fast around here.
The HR team recently did an engagement survey of my team and one of the dimensions was something along the lines of “my manager listens to new ideas and is open to input from the team.” Well, Madeleine, they all rated me really low.
I am absolutely floored by this. I am always willing to listen to new ideas, and I always encourage open dialogue about what we should do. The problem is that most ideas people bring to me are half baked and don’t take into account the realities of the results we need to produce—or they are just terrible ideas.
I hate that my team thinks I am not open, and I really hated being rated so low—on anything. Thoughts?
Of course I am dying to know what your HR people told you about how to use the feedback. There is an epidemic of people getting feedback with no real idea what to do with it. I would also be interested to know what the survey’s other dimensions were and where you scored high. It would help me understand where your strengths lie. The fact that you are not perceived as particularly open probably means you are really good at staying focused and getting things done. No one is good at everything, all the time. But I do appreciate that you are motivated to improve—so here are some thoughts.
The first order of business is to discuss the situation with each of your people separately. Be as candid with them as you have been with me—tell them you were rated low on being receptive to new ideas and had always thought you were pretty good at it. Ask for examples where they think you might have behaved differently. The key—and, honestly, if you don’t think you can do this, don’t engage in the conversation—is to respond with one of three statements:
- Tell me more;
- I understand; or
- Thank you.
Do not, under any circumstances, defend yourself, explain, or otherwise hijack and negate the feedback. Listen really carefully and take notes—and even if you disagree with every word, commit to thinking about it and considering what is said through the lens of this question: What if this were true? You may very well be surprised. You will certainly get some valuable insight on how your people are experiencing you. Pay attention to the little things you might be doing that would make people feel unheard or small. There may be a few behaviors you can stop—like rolling your eyes; or start—like saying “Wow, that is really unusual thinking!” It is very common for leaders to impact their people in ways they don’t intend—which brings us to the next possible step.
Carefully consider your intention. If you really think others’ ideas are half baked or downright terrible, you probably aren’t hiding your thoughts as well as you think you are. They can tell you have contempt for them even if you are trying to be respectful. I would submit to you that you think your job is to listen for what is boneheaded, or poorly thought through, and shut that thinking down. What if you were to change your intention to something like listening for the kernel of a good idea? Or for what is original? Or really creative? Then you can drill down and focus on that conversation. You never really know when a terrible idea will be the seed for a truly great one.
Once you have shifted your intention, you can then ask your employee to further develop their idea along new lines, perhaps in light of some realities they hadn’t considered. In this way, the answer is never really no. It is either maybe or keep working on it. So instead of being perceived as closed minded, you actually shift to being a developer of others—someone who nurtures creativity and potential!
Finally, give credit even when credit is only partially due. Even if you throw out most of someone’s idea but make it work because of your own additions, always give recognition to the person who originated the thought. There is nothing less attractive than a boss who hogs all the glory, even if they are the one who deserves it.
There is value in seeking ways to change your behavior to shift perception in this area. In marketing especially, you want to attract and retain the most innovative and creative folks. Having a reputation as the person who fosters and grows talent will only help you be more successful over time.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!