Why is it that so many leaders in today’s world view unsolicited input from those they lead as a threat to their leadership authority? I’ve experienced this in both my civilian and military careers. For some strange reason, leaders are unwelcoming to advice from their subordinates and I just can’t understand why. Is it because it makes the leader feel inadequate in some way? Is it because leaders expect themselves to be the sole source of ideas and brainstorming? Or is it just because it can be inconvenient to manage an influx of ideas and suggestions? Can anyone share with me one good reason why leader’s shouldn’t encourage those they lead to share thoughts, ideas and input in a collaborative way whenever possible?
Now, to build on this thought chain, who’s heard of the “good idea fairy”? For my civilian friends out there, it’s a term I learned in the military to sarcastically describe that person who’s always coming up with bright ideas and new ways to improve things. Typically, this person wasn’t very well liked because their “good ideas” can be annoying and intrusive. In the spirit of being honest, i’ll admit that during my time in the Army, that was me. I was the “good idea fairy”. Why? Because for the first time in my life, I found something I was extremely passionate about (being a soldier) and no matter how hard I tried, my brain just wouldn’t stop turning. I was always thinking of new ways to do things, how I could do something better or how I could contribute more to the team. This wasn’t because I thought my leadership was incapable of generating these ideas on their own but I simply saw an opportunity to share my passion with those around me…
But, in the spirit of being honest, I must admit that seldom were my ideas accepted. The military is full of time-honored traditions that are not easily adjusted or changed. For every hundred ideas I shared maybe just 1 or two were acted upon but I was okay with that because I was at least I was listened too. What was important to me was that my leadership cared enough to listen even if nothing came from it. I was blessed with incredible leadership who saw my passion and despite not always surfacing at the most convenient times, they listened and encouraged me to keep sharing my passion and ideas. Had they not listened and simply shut me down, they likely would have extinguished my creativity and stifled my desire to get better – both individually and as a member of a team.
The reality is, “good ideas” often sound good in theory but aren’t always viable options. What’s important is that we as leaders continue to encourage those we lead to generate new ideas and share their input whenever possible. Sure, it might not always come at the best times, but what I’ve truly have come to accept is just how little I actually know as a leader. I’m forced to make important decisions but I don’t always have all of the information I need to make the best decisions.
That’s where my teams come in. The more I focus on my leadership roles and responsibilities, the more I realize just how much I rely on those I lead. Although sometimes, their input might not be helpful, I force myself to listen. I force myself to listen because I want my teams to feel heard and I want to encourage them to be creative and to take ownership in our outcomes. At the end of the day, I am only as successful as the teams I lead. I want my teams to continue to come to me with new ideas and input so they can help me fill in the gaps of what I don’t know and help me make the best choices I can as their leader.
So in closing, i’ll put it simply by admitting that leadership is exhausting. Why would I discourage those I lead from helping me make my job as the leader easier? Why would I turn someone away who comes to me with ideas if they’re doing so with the intention of trying to help me improve? Whether their input ends up being helpful or not, it’s time to welcome our “good idea fairy’s” with open arms. They might need to be reigned in every one in a while but having “too many ideas” isn’t the worst problem to have as a leader. Instead, focus on building a better channel for the sharing of input and ideas instead of squashing the generation of ideas all together. Try it, I dare you, and watch what happens when your team believes you truly care about what they have to say…
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