What is one thing you can do to become a great leader? Find people that will challenge you. If you surround yourself with the "best and brightest," and create a safe environment for them to test your thinking, void of career limiting repercussions, you will become a better leader.
It takes an emotionally intelligent leader to forge a work environment where diversity of thought is promoted. These kinds of leaders implicitly understand that their title does not mean that they have all of the answers, all of the time. Rather, they recognize that having a team around them that feels comfortable challenging them will enable better thinking and vastly improve business outcomes.
Whether you're high in emotional intelligence or less so, here are three ideas that you can use to shape your team to challenge you and make you a better leader:
Be deliberate in building a team that provides a variety of perspectives and is rich in diversity of thought.
Don't just hire or promote people that seem like carbon copies of you. Instead, look for people that think and operate differently.
It is here that backgrounds and life stories can play a big role. One of the things that I counsel my clients to do is to ask job candidates about their life stories. A candidate's responses to questions about how they got to where they are can be telling. Seek to add people to your team that have different life narratives and experiences.
Call on people who are not from your inner circle to offer an opinion and don't be afraid to skip level when seeking fresh perspectives.
I've seen this technique work well at a recent client site. The manager that I was coaching wanted to breathe some fresh ideas into her product development team. She had heard of an "up and comer" from logistics and asked him to participate in a product development brainstorming session she had scheduled with her team.
He wasn't there 10 minutes before he introduced a design concept that, once implemented, would significantly lower the cost of packaging and shipping. Because he had no formal product design experience, but understood package and shipping processes, he could think differently about the product than its designers. Consequently, he could suggest a product design change that saved the company money and one the team would have never identified on its own.
Don't be the leader that inadvertently tells their team that they're tone deaf.
We've all seen those kind of leaders in action. They're the ones that seldom concede a point of debate and often dismisses new ideas by suggesting that they'll never work in practice.
Instead, work to create a collaborative work environment so that the best ideas can be shared and leveraged. You can do this by acknowledging new ideas when offered by your team and encouraging colleagues to challenge your thinking whenever they believe that a better idea can be had.
There is no doubt that people who can bring fresh ideas and perspectives to your team are very valuable. They can help you see where some of the biggest issues and greatest opportunities exist. Yes, you must seek to hire people who are experts in needed specialties. However, be sure that they think differently than you do. Once the team is in place, empower them to speak their mind. In this way, you will be building a team that can offer unique insights to problem solving and help you become the best leader that you can be.