Leadership for Life – Know-It-Alls

By on May 4, 2015

From time to time, I run into an acquaintance who never fails to seize the opportunity to respond to a casual remark or answer a simple question with an interminable lecture.

“Looks like the price of gas is on its way up again,” I remarked one day last week.

“Well, you know that the price of gas is not strictly tied to the price of oil . . . the price always changes on Tuesday . . . several refineries are setting up for their summer blends . . . make sure your tires are at the proper inflation . . . don’t accelerate too quickly from a stop sign . . . I know a website that tells you the price of gas in your area . . .”

On another occasion, I said, “Wish I could take off a few pounds.”

“I know of a great calorie counter app . . . you should eat less at night . . . stay away from restaurants . . . there’s a great article on how to use a personal trainer . . . you need to be more active . . . supplements don’t work . . . chocolate goes right to my hips . . .”

This person is either the smartest, most well-read person in the world, or she just makes it up as she goes along. Either way, a little goes a long way.

Leaders sometimes fall into the trap of believing that they have to be the smartest person in the room. These people almost always look for ways to show off how smart they are as a way of justifying their leadership positions. The irony is that they didn’t get to become leaders by continually haranguing others about every conceivable topic that comes up.

I have found that the best leaders are first and foremost great listeners. Great listeners participate by asking a few cogent questions and listening to the responses. Great listening includes being silent, asking clarifying questions, paraphrasing, and demonstrating attentive body language. Even if the leader’s role is to coach or instruct, the most effective approach is to ask questions, rather than offer advice. When you believe it’s appropriate to tell people what or how to do something, your statements should be short and to the point, not lectures. Sometimes just a hint is enough to get someone moving in the right direction. Detailed road maps are rarely required.

Effective listeners are often the most sought after people in organizations, as well as in personal relationships. Good listening skills are often the key element in whether people get promoted in organizations, regardless of what other technical skills may be present. Good listeners make good catalysts – they accelerate or facilitate others’ performance without being obtrusive.

The next time someone asks you for advice, keep it short and sweet. Maybe clarify more precisely what they’re looking for. Sometimes, “Where did I come from?” simply requires “You were born in Detroit.” Watch their face and body language. If you see them start to glaze over, it’s time to stop and listen.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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