One very important trait managers need to embrace is humility. Over the years I have had many managers and leaders tell me that they truly believe this but their actions don’t always reinforce their words.
I have tried to look at each day with a new set of eyes and I try to better understand the needs of my team, customers, vendors, and business partners. I believe that you shouldn’t focus on the way things have always been done, but to always search for better ways to do the things that have always been done. This is not possible if you get caught up in an ego driven environment. As leaders we need to keep an open mind and remember that great ideas can come from anywhere and/or anyone. We cannot afford to get wrapped up in titles or start to believe that we always know the best way. Get over yourself! And understand that many times the best ideas will come from your frontline team members, and more often than not, from some of the newest members that don’t know all of the learned behavior that has been followed by the team members with greater longevity within the company. Stop talking and try listening to what your team is telling you and find ways to support and reward their input.
I remember an old story I was told once that really illustrates this principle. You may have all heard this before but it is worth repeating. One day on a very busy road a large dump truck was traveling to a project to deliver his payload. As he went to pass under a bridge his truck slammed into the overpass and the impact wedged the truck underneath the bridge. The truck was just tall enough to wedge itself under the bridge but seemed to not really damage the bridge’s structural integrity. So as traffic started to pile up the police, emergency crews, and the city’s top engineers showed up. They were all trying to come up with plans on how to get this truck out from under the bridge. One suggested that they bring in a crew to cut the bridge up, and then pull the truck out. Another engineer said that it would be better to get some cutting torches and cut the truck out. Just then an eight year old boy sitting on his bicycle yelled out,”Why don’t you just let the air out of the tires?” This story shows the power of looking at things with “New Eyes”. Sometimes the years of experience we have can cause us to overcomplicate things and obscure the obvious solution.
One of my mentors, and hands down the greatest leader I ever worked for, once told me ‘if your mouth is moving you cannot listen, and if you cannot listen you cannot learn. So shut up and maybe you will learn something’, a little rough, but very true. One key to success is the constant pursuit of knowledge. So, if you are not learning every day, your chances at being successful are greatly reduced. The key point I want to make is that you can learn from everyone around you. Don’t only look to your superiors, books, classes, and the like. You can learn more about your business and how to make it better by listening to your team members and customers than you will ever be able to learn from the latter.
Finally, step down off your ivory tower and ask for your team’s input. Treat them with the respect they deserve, and remain humble. Remember that your team determines the level of your success, so show them respect and listen to their advice. As Ozzy Osborne once said, “You better be nice to the people you meet on your way up, because you will meet them again on your way back down”.