Get out of your Bubble: Why the Secret to Great Leadership Insight is found in the Breakroom, not the Boardroom

What if you could know what your employees were thinking? What if you could see the company through their eyes? How would your leadership efforts change if you knew what truly motivated your team?

Believe it or not, understanding your team and how to lead them effectively is easier than you think. The problem is most leaders don’t spend enough time with employees, really listening to them.

“Leaders must recognize that the key to success and growth is getting employees to tell you what’s really going on.” Vineet Nayar

Listening to employees is a critical skill to master in order to become a more insightful and effective leader. This seems simple but it’s often overlooked. Most leaders spend their day in a bubble. They find themselves surrounded by people who see the company as they do. Getting out of the office and spending time listening to employees will help you break out of that bubble and give you a different perspective.

Here are four ways that listening to employees improves your skills as a leader:

You create relationships. When you spend time listening to employees, you get to know them and they get to know you. In the process, you build mutual respect. You build a relationship. As you learn more about their passions and challenges, you understand how to lead them more effectively. They will also get to know you better and the reasons behind your actions.

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

You face reality. Listening to employees gives you a unique perspective. You discover how things are really going. Employees can be brutally honest, which is why many leaders avoid this activity. If you are going to lead effectively, you need to confront reality and address the challenges your team is facing.

“Great listeners are often terrific at uncovering and putting in place strategies and plans that have a big impact.” Richard Branson

You uncover common themes. As you listen to employees, you discover common themes. These are small pieces of narrative that tell a bigger story. You might find that employees are having a problem with one of your supervisors or a new piece of software. You may uncover a common customer complaint or lingering production bottleneck. Spending time with employees gives you access to the raw data that is often filtered out in a traditional command-and-control structure.

 “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.” Bernard Baruch

You build a team. When leaders and employees spend time together, they become more aware that they are on the same team. It’s easy to blame someone you don’t know, or understand, for your problems. Listening to employees can help eliminate the “us and them” mindset. When we do that, we can better focus our attention on customers, the competition and getting better as a company.

Some of the best leadership insights are found in the breakroom, not the boardroom. If you find yourself surrounded by people who see the company exactly as you do, you probably need to break out of your bubble and go spend time listening to employees. This simple act will help you create critical relationships, confront reality, uncover common concerns and build a stronger team.

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