I have an employee who is very dependable and is doing an excellent job. I am certain he will do very well here, long term. He has been with the company about a year, has developed confidence, and often catches errors before it is too late. He is trusted and his peers go to him to brainstorm and troubleshoot.
I have noticed that he stays silent in meetings but will share his thoughts with others after the meeting. This causes extra work and adds time to the process of making the best decisions. I have encouraged him to speak up in group settings, but he is not rising to the occasions as they are presented.
I see great things for this person, and this is an important step in his development. I am not sure how to help him make this leap. Would appreciate some ideas.
Getting the quiet ones to speak up in the moment is a tricky one. The key will be to first get him on board. It may take a lot for him to “rise,” as you say, so he needs to understand the difference it will make for him. He also needs to understand what it will cost him if he fails to even try.
This will require a one-on-one conversation that is private with no interruptions. Then paint the picture of what you see going on.
Start by explaining what compels you to insist on his development. If you didn’t see such promise, you wouldn’t bother, right? He needs to know that you know the value he brings.
Then explain why it is so important for him to speak up in the moment, not after the meeting. Use an example of a recent case where it added time and needless complexity to a decision process. There is a good chance he has no idea it is causing static.
Remind him that you have encouraged him in the past and have not seen any change.
Then ask questions that will help you understand what is going on:
- Do you see how important it is that you speak up in the moment?
- What keeps you from speaking up in the moment?
- Is there anything or anyone (including me) in the meetings that make you feel unsafe?
- What can I do to make it feel safer for you?
- How can you overcome whatever is getting in your way of speaking?
Ask each question and let him take his time to answer. You may have to be in silence together for a while, and that’s okay. If it makes you uncomfortable, breathe.
You can speculate all day long as to why your high potential person is staying quiet, but only he knows. To be fair, he may not even know himself, so you may not get a clear answer the first time you ask. Be prepared to have him go away and think about it. If this happens, schedule a follow-up so he knows you are not going to let it drop.
You may end up hearing something unexpected. Maybe he was punished or ridiculed for speaking up in his last job. Maybe he needs time to think about things. Maybe he just doesn’t think anyone cares what he thinks, despite what you have said to him. Who knows?
But extend the invitation to partner with him to help him rise. Give it time. It may require incremental experiments. Or you may unleash something—for better or for worse.
He is lucky to have a manager who cares enough to bother. I salute you.
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.
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