The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.
– Woodrow T. Wilson
We were at Border’s Cafe for Rachel’s coaching appointment. We had identified part of what was holding her back as a leader – a lack of confidence; she was not using her voice effectively.
If leadership is about having influence it’s pretty hard to achieve if your voice is silent. While she was writing in her coaching journal, I excused myself. Making my way to the check-out area there was a display rack of various gift cards.
I selected this gift card and gave it to Rachel. I suggested the gift card message could serve as a reminder back at the corporate offices. She agreed and placed on her desk where she would see it.
Beyond the sound made when we use our vocal organs, voice represents our ability to express our thoughts, to contribute to the conversation.
Recently I have been amazed at how often this matter of being heard has come up. The stories reveal the affect of not being heard by the boss or sometimes, a complete lack of response to ideas.
What’s the affect of a silent voice?
When there is a failure to listen, to hear someone’s voice there is a price to pay. The ramification when leaders fail to lift every voice is significant; for example:
- The loss of employee engagement
- Doubt regarding one’s value to the organization
- The lack of respect diminishes trust
- Innovation is limited
- Opportunity for improvement, lost
How often does limiting another’s voice become a strategy to suppress their ideas?
How often is limiting another’s voice driven by a need to control.
To silence the voice of others is a leadership limiting behavior.
Whose voice and whose responsibility is it?
There are two sides to this story; it’s not always the boss not listening. Bret Simmons, faculty member of the College of Business, University of Nevada – Reno recently wrote about how beliefs can lead to a self-limiting use of the voice.
Referencing The Academy of Management Journal study by James Detert and Amy Edmondson; he summarizes five beliefs that can misguide employee thoughts towards those in authority causing them to exhibit “self-protective silence”.
1. Negative career consequences of voice: e.g. if you want advancement opportunities in today’s world, you have to be careful about pointing out needs for improvement to those in charge
2. Don’t embarrass the boss in public: e.g. you should always pass your ideas for improvement by the boss in private first, before you speak up publicly at work.
3. Don’t bypass the boss upward: e.g. loyalty to your boss means you don’t speak up about problems in front of his or her boss.
4. Need solid data or solutions (to speak up): e.g. unless you have clear solutions, you shouldn’t speak up about problems.
5. Presumed target identification: e.g. it is not good to question the way things are done because those who have developed the routines are likely to take it personally.
From my executive coaching experience, a silent voice is a shared leadership challenge. Yes, some leaders driven by insecurity, the pace of life, a need to control, or due to poor communication skills silence the voices. However, some employees – misguided by false beliefs – remain in silence.
Bottom line: silence limits leadership effectiveness. Where are you in the story?
If you think this might be a handy guide for you or someone in your circle of influence I would really appreciate it if you would help me offer the coaching support this book provides.
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