Most leaders get where they are by being competent and confident. When, for instance, an important project is struggling, the team needs to rally behind a new initiative, or there’s a crisis that threatens the business, effective leaders decisively help to get things back on track. But many miss the boat on how to encourage more employee input.
As leaders learn in our leadership action learning programs, being the brightest, most confident person in the room can, at times, have a negative effect. It can seriously block employee input and sabotage a leader’s efforts to learn what employees are really thinking. The very traits that define an effective leader can unintentionally muzzle their team and decrease employee engagement.
A Typical Example
A manager calls a team meeting to review their marketing strategy for a new product. They sit in their usual spot at the head of the table and, in their usual self-assured manner, present the plan and ask for input. Silence. Finally, one or two employees speak up in agreement with the plan. They were convinced by the manager’s confidence and, despite the genuine request for their thoughts, decided the manager probably had it all figured out.
Behavioral research shared by our microlearning experts tells us that there is indeed such a thing as a leader being too competent and confident, at least in certain situations such as during a project’s planning stages when creative contributions are needed from a range of people.
Researchers at the London School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley performed an experiment to assess the behavior of more than 200 students in three different situations that simulated manager-employee interactions. In all three situations, the more confident the manager appeared — as measured by a set of behavioral cues he or she displayed — the less the employee participated in the discussion.
The conclusion? When people are asked to work with a boss whom they perceive as highly competent, their own contributions and creativity are shut down.
What You Can Do to Encourage More Employee Input
The research identified three particular behavioral cues that created an impression of high confidence on the leader’s part:
To get more participation in a discussion, leaders need to make a conscious effort to dial these behaviors back by:
The Bottom Line
Don’t silence your team when what you want and need is their thoughtful, constructive criticism. Set yourself up in a way that genuinely invites your employees to share their input.
To learn more about how to encourage more employee input, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader
Get key strategy, culture, and talent tools from industry experts that work
Assess how you stack up against leading organizations in areas matter most
Download published articles from experts to stay ahead of the competition
Review proven research-backed approaches to get aligned
Stay up to do date on the latest best practices that drive higher performance
Explore real world results for clients like you striving to create higher performance