“Do you see me?” is perhaps the most critical question people have when asked to work with a leader. It implies: Do I matter to you? Do you understand my views and needs? Am I merely a pawn for you to use in achieving your goals, or do you care about me as a person? Do you get my potential as a partner in this work? And are you willing to work with me even though we won’t always see eye to eye?
People look closely at how leaders treat them in answering these questions. One of the biggest tipoffs is how generous you are with inclusion: whether and how you involve others in discussions and decisions, and if you do so with humility.
Are you overlooking inclusion?
A common mistake among leaders is assuming they’re supposed to know almost everything—that their high status means others have little to contribute to their work. Some leaders believe they know what’s best, even when they’re aware that some parties who’ll be affected by decisions hold different opinions.
Rather than facilitate discussions to resolve differing views, many leaders make decisions without involving others and later try to sell the decision or frame it as being in everyone’s best interest.
But have you noticed the problems with this approach? It frequently fails because implementation goes awry. And that often happens when leaders lack adequate information, misjudge others’ real needs, or damage others’ dignity by signaling they’re not important enough to consult.
So, what’s a better approach?
- Invite others to be part of the real action. Including others goes far beyond calling people together for staff meetings about face time, sharing routine reports, or delegating work you don’t want to do. Instead, think about whom you are engaging, on what activities, and in what way. And be sure you include people in a timely way, when they can influence the decision, rather than hoping they’ll simply put a rubber stamp on it.
- Invite stakeholders who’ll have strong reactions. It’s especially important to involve people who are likely to have a strong, negative emotional response to your choices or the direction you set. This applies not only to employees but also to peers, members of your supply chain, and the community at large—anyone who’s likely to be affected significantly by what you’re doing.
- Seek input on critical issues. Bring others into discussions around important issues, such as significant business concerns, planning for future initiatives, resolving serious challenges, or generating quality improvements. It’s when people are left out of important considerations that they feel they weren’t included, weren’t seen, and didn’t matter.
- Practice deep listening. To show genuine interest in others’ ideas and opinions, we need to really listen, something many action-oriented leaders fail to do. When mindshare is divided between the person in front of us and other tasks or concerns, listening is compromised, and people sense our distraction.
One simple tip is to listen as if we’ll hear something we can reinforce and act on favorably—to listen with positive expectation—and watch how others respond to this quality of attention.
- Give permission and encouragement. Sometimes people need encouragement to speak when you begin including them. If employees or partners in your work have been given little chance to contribute before, they may hesitate to offer their views. Instead, they may defer to your authority or assume you simply want to issue direction.
I’ve heard leaders say, “I try to hold discussions, but no one contributes anything.” Leaders need to remain aware of their own power position—that others see their title and status and will likely defer to them unless given permission otherwise.
- Display emotional generosity. Actively signal a real desire for input. This can be shown in passive ways, such as being patient while people formulate their thoughts, not finishing sentences for them, or resisting the temptation to fill the temporary silence with your ideas. You can also show generosity in active ways, with invitations such as: “Jan, what are your thoughts on this?”
Although this may be more time-consuming than simply being directive, in the long run, it creates a better environment for working together.
- Integrate differences. Are you genuinely open to people who hold different perspectives? Do you default to including people with a similar background to your own because discussions with them feel easier and more comfortable?
It takes effort to develop a good representation of differences in organizations, but it takes equal attention to whether these different voices and views are actually represented in discussions and integrated into decisions.
- Carefully consider all input. Including others in decision-making doesn’t necessarily require delegating the final call to the group, but it does mean sharing issues and giving people a voice—even when letting them know their views will be advisory but not decisive. Make a real effort to incorporate some of their input in your decisions fairly often. Otherwise, people will quickly learn that you’re going through the motions but that their views don’t really matter.
Do your words, actions, and behavior say, “I see you, and you matter”? If not, let’s get started.
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