A listening boss shows strength, not weakness

by | Oct 18, 2011 | News

A new study sheds light on the importance of listening among top level managers and leaders, writes Simon Hayward in People Management.

“My boss never listens to me.” We’ve all probably heard these words more than once. Some of us have uttered them. And some of us are those bosses – so confident in our decision-making abilities that we don’t always seek the input of others.

New research has now proved what many have long suspected – that many leaders don’t listen. The study, The Detrimental Effects of Power on Confidence, Advice Taking, and Accuracy, by academics at Stern School of Business, Duke Business School and Lehigh University, has been conducted with 1,500 participants over two and a half years. The conclusion? The more power leaders have, the less likely they are to take advice.

Leaders in powerful positions tend to be confident in their decision making. Usually this confidence is one of the things that helped them gain a powerful position in the workplace. It is a valued trait in corporate life. However, an unshakeable belief in your own decision-making ability can be a dangerous thing. The study suggests it can often lead to poor and inaccurate results. Researchers found that people in powerful positions often feel confident enough to make unaided decisions in areas where they lack expertise. In my experience, this leads to less effective decisions and reduced commitment from others when it comes to putting those decisions into action.

I believe that the powerful leader and the less powerful employee frequently see this situation very differently. Often the powerful leader believes that possessing the confidence to make independent decisions is a great strength. They fear that seeking advice from others may make them appear vulnerable. Less powerful employees, however, believe that bosses who involve others in the decision-making process are in fact stronger and more effective.

So what can leaders learn from this study and do differently in the workplace? Many leaders have been rewarded for their independent decision-making with promotion to increasingly powerful roles. Why should they want to start seeking the input of others when the way they’ve operated in the past has served them so well?

Many successful leaders are unafraid to surround themselves with challenging people. They’re also quite happy to admit that they’re not always right. Rather, they see their role as being about getting the very best from the people they lead – which means connecting, listening, and valuing the input of others. I believe these leaders get better ideas and solutions from more people, which in turn drives performance improvement.

There was one other interesting finding from this study: women are more likely to take advice than men. But perhaps that’s a topic for another day.

Read Simon’s article on the People Management website.

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