Getting the best out of your team means making sure they participate and share – great ideas don’t help anyone if they’re kept holed up. One way this appears, of course, is with diversity – diversity of all sorts, including backgrounds, areas of expertise, experience, etc. Research shows that diverse teams and companies outperform homogeneous ones – but only if the different workers are allowed to express their ideas and opinions to create a melting pot of ideas.
But working on teams with different kinds of people is that it’s, well, hard. Not everyone agrees with us or will follow us. Differences of opinions and views bring conflict – and conflict is painful for most people. But this conflict is powerful and productive if managed well. A major challenge for ensuring that your team works to its most productive is enuring that conflict is productive and valuable – not destructive. That’s a skill that can be developed – we discuss how to coach managers to deal with conflict in another post and it’s a common topic in our leadership coaching for junior and mid-level managers.
But encouraging people to speak up is more than just managing the conflict well – what distinguishes those who speak up from the others? One of the main differences is “social courage” – the willingness to speak up, knowing there will be some risk like conflict, to produce a good outcome. In a work setting, it’s the people who share their idea when the team doesn’t want to hear it, or speak up when they see an ethical issue or serious product problem.
Take Amy – she was the head of sales and the only woman on our client’s senior team. At a discussion of the new product design, the entire team agreed the design looked great. Until the CEO asked Amy what she thought. Amy paused – and said “it doesn’t look very inviting to me. This isn’t how I think and I don’t think any of my friends would use it this way.” That’s social courage.
What made Amy speak up, and why do so many others not? Research shows the answer is in part who the person is – we need courageous people on our teams. But it’s also the culture of the team. Leaders can create teams where people are more encouraged and empowered to speak up. Empowering leadership is a formula that’s well understood – “empowering leadership involves providing guidance and autonomy and making decisions collaboratively. Power distance is the extent to which rank and position in the hierarchy conveyed special privileges. These findings suggested that leaders who empower their workers and less hierarchical organizations enabled workers to act more courageously.” Empowered leadership results in people who feel they are valued and respected, that they can trust that they will not be punished for speaking up, and who are convinced that they have responsibility and control over what happens.
Being an empowering leader isn’t easy. These leaders have to build trust on their teams and manage conflict well. They have to be willing and able to give employees enough authority and autonomy, which means letting go and planning carefully how to do things like delegation and feedback to encourage workers to take responsibility. Empowered leadership, while it seems easy on its face, is a high-level set of leadership skills. It’s a common topic in our leadership coaching for junior and mid-level leaders.
But it’s worth it – teams with courageous members will have more and better ideas, more productive discussions and ultimately will outperform those without it.
Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350-person internet company. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.
Careerwave’s technology-based leadership coaching service is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager. Whether you need to coach 1 leader or 100, and whether you need a full program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a solution for you. To learn more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit careerwave.me.