By Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group.
I recently spoke to a three-hour long MBA entrepreneurship class and easily had at least another good hour left in me. For those of us who enjoy talking, filling hours of airtime can be a lot easier than keeping quiet. However, as a leader, I have learned that it can be more important not to speak than to share my thoughts. In fact, whenever I meet with members of my team (at times to their frustration) I always make it a point to weigh in last.
I learned about the importance of voicing your opinion last not from a business book or a mentor, but as a college student pursuing a degree in political science alongside my degree in business. I took several classes on the United States Supreme Court and learned that the chief justice of the Supreme Court always weighs in last. Going last provides the chief with enormous power: voting with the knowledge of where each of the justices stands affords the ability to most effectively shape the final ruling with the understanding of whether it is more strategic to join the majority or the minority.
Startup companies operate differently the than bodies of jurists, and the tactical importance of leaders weighing in last differs accordingly. For one, I am not concerned about the political implication of the decisions I make -- they are not important enough to have political implications. I am concerned, though, about biasing the opinions of my subordinates. Too often, employees feel the need to agree with their superiors, and even those who don't can have a hard time directly challenging the views shared by those senior to them, especially in face to face meetings. While we have worked hard to build an extremely open and entrepreneurial culture at our company, I nonetheless want to protect against the instinct intrinsic in most people to go along with the boss. In not sharing my thoughts on a given topic, my goal is to better enable those around me to share their true feelings, to afford them the ability to give their best advice.
Like the chief justice, I want as much information as I can have before making a decision, and I greatly value the views shared by members of my team. I want their best opinions before giving my best opinion. If their thoughts were not important to me, what is the point of meeting altogether? Too often, leaders believe that they have all of the answers or should have all of the answers. In actuality, effective leaders build strong teams and lean on the talent around them to complement their own prowess.
We meet all of the time to discuss items big and small. In meetings, questions of greatly varying magnitude arise. Should we change the wording on one of the banners on one of our e-commerce sites? Should we pivot and start an entirely new business?
Here's one example among the many. We were meeting with designers to discuss strategy around a new design for our custom tobacco website. Naturally, the designers wanted my thoughts throughout the meeting, and reflexively I deferred until the other participants in the meeting expressed their viewpoints. By weighing in last, I believe that I helped foster a free flow of ideas that led to a work product we are all very proud of. I may have the highest title in the company, but that does not mean I am the most knowledgeable person in the room on topics such as user interface and search engine optimization. If I know more about each subject than the people around me, I have failed as a leader by not hiring good enough people.
The older you get, the more you realize that you know what you don't know, and my years as an entrepreneur have taught me that there is more I don't know than I will ever know. Lean on those around you because you need them and empower those around you by giving them the floor.
Adam Mendler is CEO of The Veloz Group and founder of Beverly Hills Chairs, Custom Tobacco and Veloz Solutions