Not Hearing Enough Ideas From Your Team? Hold Back Some of Yours

Does it seem like you are always having to generate new ideas while people around you seem idea poor?

While you may have been recognized and promoted based on your ability to generate a lot of ideas, have you considered that as a leader acting as a fountain of ideas may result in others holding back from sharing their own?

As a result of her Multipliers leadership research Liz Wiseman, a Top 50 Thinker award winner, has identified several Accidental Diminisher behavioral tendencies. These are behaviors that leaders demonstrate, with the very best intentions, that have the unintended consequence of shutting down the contributions of people around them. One of these tendencies is the ‘Idea Guy’ (or Gal).

Leaders who love to create idea-rich environments tend to lead by example and constantly plant idea seeds with the noble intention of sparking ideas in others. In reality ‘Idea Guys’ often create an environment where others simply stop thinking and wait for the next idea to burst from the fountain.

In today’s ever changing, complex government environments, leaders need to create an atmosphere that elicits ideas from all in the pursuit of improving public services.

Here are some tips to avoid shutting down idea generation in others.

Create a Holding Tank. I have worked with leaders who not only have a lot of great ideas, they will blurt out their ideas as soon as they take shape. Often the trigger for these immediate shares is to avoid losing their sudden brain child. As a workaround consider writing down your ideas to evaluate and share at a more opportune time. Try taking some sticky notes to meetings, writing down your ideas and holding these gems until later in the meeting. If in the meantime the team has not formulated an acceptable idea feel free to share yours. This will provide your team with space to come up with their own solution – which could be better than your own!

Validate Your Ideas. Let’s face it, some of the brilliant ideas we share may be only half baked – at best. We may have some flaws in our thinking or have not considered all possible angles. In these situations, your team may hesitate to offer a different thought simply because you are ‘the boss’. Before you share your next big idea use others as a sounding board by presenting your idea followed by genuine questions about its merit or alternatives. You will not only demonstrate that you value their intelligence, but will also validate and improve upon your idea before sharing with a wider audience.

Ask the Big Questions. Instead of using your smarts to think of new ideas, spend your intellectual energy on forming hard questions that require others to generate ideas. A successful shift from individual contributor to leader includes the acceptance that you don’t need to have all the ideas. Instead leaders provide more value by asking big, thought provoking questions that advance the thinking of their teams. These types of questions allow teams the freedom to challenge existing assumptions and generate new and fresh ideas. These are open questions that start with words such as “How might we…”

I am not suggesting as a leader you should never share your own ideas, but consider if you may be sharing so many ideas that your team stops trying to come up with their own.

For idea rich leaders, shifting away from ‘Idea Guy’ behaviors may seem daunting, but the result of having teams contribute more of their own ideas will be well worth the restraint.

What other tips would you add to generate an idea-rich team?

Jon Haverly is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Carla McClure

Excellent point! The project leader I work for must have read your article in an alternate reality about 10 years ago. She’s an “Idea Gal” but I’ve seen her effectively use various strategies to elicit ideas from the team. For example: Virtual brainstorming sessions. These usually start in realtime during team meetings and move to a virtual space with a “ticking clock” deadline (usually 1 to 5 days). This approach gets even the most shy or reluctant team member to participate. We can add to one another’s ideas during virtual brainstorming but refrain from evaluating or criticizing ideas. No decisions are made until after the deadline.