Recently, a research team from the University of Michigan used a computer simulation of a Mount Everest Expedition to determine what kinds of leaders produce the best outcome in a group setting. Interestingly, they found that teams whose leaders had been induced to feel powerful (through suggestions such as “think about a time when you had power over someone”) achieved just 50% of their goals, whereas teams whose leaders were NOT induced to feel powerful achieved 76% of their goals.
Clearly, the belief that the more power a leader has, the better they are at getting the desired performance from their team members is fundamentally flawed. What the University of Michigan study revealed was that more important than how much power the leader has is how they use it when interacting with members of their team.
Put simply, a good leader understands the importance of listening to their team and placing value on their input when making decisions. Without a solid team, no amount of leadership is going to achieve the results you desire. An efficient team with positive and dynamic interaction improves the performance of everyone in the team (a rising tide lifts all boats…). By working together toward a common goal, teams create and produce ideas that didn’t exist before the formation of the group. Expecting the power of a leader to be enough to make a team accomplish a certain task is unrealistic. A leader is more than an unyielding guide; they’re a part of the overall team and aid in direction without being overbearing, immovable and unreceptive.
The truth is that having power can go to a leader’s head, making them feel they have ultimate control and the last say when it comes to outcomes and the experiences of those in the team. These are subjective feelings of power and not indicative of the actual power they possess. A bad leader may act as though team members are below them and devalue their contributions and input. They see the team as one amorphous group rather than individual people and this skewed perspective makes it less likely that they’ll listen to others. The leader wants a certain result and thinks it must be done following a particular method. Without the ability to listen, the leader loses the team’s trust and motivation rapidly decreases.
The best power a good leader can exert is the power to listen. A great leader understands the merit of differing opinions and perspectives within the team. They have the ability to put themselves in any given team member’s place and see the task from their angle. They’re not above anyone else; they’re on the same level as everyone and working toward the same common goal. An effective leader earns the respect of team members and knows that the overall group is the true source of power and strength. Give and take in group interactions is critical to achieving innovation and positive outcomes, and as a result, effective leaders should establish that they are not the sole decider on whether an idea is acceptable or not. The power of a leader lies in their ability to do what’s best for the group and the designated goal without alienating the team. The best leaders encourage sharing of information, place value on all input no matter how small it seems and don’t insist on dominating all group discussions. They make sure all team members know that communication of differing opinions is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Diplomacy is a talent that all great leaders possess. They do ultimately make the final decision but they do so after gathering all the team information and evaluating. It’s impossible to please everyone with certain decisions, but as long as the team members know that they’re a valuable part of the process, they’ll feel motivated and empowered.
What does it all mean?
The idea of valuing everyone as individuals, listening to them and understanding their unique ideas is applicable for more than great leaders. In the world of insurance and risk management, your broker needs to listen to you, not just tell you what they think you should do. Your profile is unique and requires all the benefits of a personal, comprehensive and intuitive risk management strategy.
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