Today’s post is offered by guest blogger and fellow Vistage Chair, Steve Larrick. 

As leaders, we develop our own styles, and ways of getting things done over our careers. What works against us at times is that early success in leading others and in getting things done convinces us that our ways and methods are the one best way. Quoting Bill Gates, “Success is a lousy teacher. It convinces smart people that they can’t make mistakes.” I have observed over time many leaders who pronounce or dictate a course of action with the result that his or her subjects follow that course. Their own experience is that the smart leader has always been right. They bury their own reservations.

The Socratic method of using questions is one way to change the pattern of leadership communication. However, if overused, that method can become annoying to the listener. Another way to approach this is what I call planting the seed. Suggesting in conversation that the leader has a thought about a course of action but not pressing for agreement or compliance. Then the leader lets the seed idea “germinate” until a decision must be made. An astute follower will consider the “planted” seed in a subsequent conversation and either agree to it or have a well-built case for taking another course. It causes the follower to think without being “Socratesed”.

Author’s note: “I have also found planting the seed works with spouses and teenagers. I only discovered this after many painful lessons!”

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain

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