Are you talking when you should be listening?

There is a “parking lot” on the whiteboard of our conference room, where my ideas go to die. Sometimes I have what I call solo-synergy. I think I’m electrifying the room, but really, I’m so consumed with my own ideas, that I stop reading it. I lose the crowd and the plot when that happens.

I’ll go on for way too long, drawing pictures on the board about what feels super important to me. When I finally stop, a few quiet moments pass, and someone on the team will graciously say, “Can we put that idea in the parking lot, Dan?” Somehow the phrase “parking lot” penetrates the solo-synergy barrier, my feet come back to the ground, and with a shade of embarrassment I say, “Sure.”

Stories of the visionary genius or lone dissenter have a powerful allure. Who doesn’t want to be that person? I think leaders who are prone to solo-synergy (and ego) are extra captivated by this. We all know people that revel in being the lone holdout, the brave voice going against the crowd, or my favorite “the quirky philosopher.” Out of courtesy, these people, particularly in board rooms, often get more deference than they deserve. I know, because I’ve been that guy.

When I’m in meetings, I sometimes find myself talking when I should be listening. But somehow when I’m doing it, I’m too excited about my ideas to resist my sensibilities. Most times, a parking lot moment brings me back down to earth. Then I drive home thinking, “Did I do it again? I hope I didn’t talk too much.”

Another reminder that those who hold positions of power are likely to be listened to, so we need to repay that respect with thoughtfulness and humility.

All this has brought me to a helpful axiom: In a good team with high levels of trust and disclosure, the group is generally right. Nearly always right, in fact. That’s why leaders need to pay attention, have some self-control and respect collective intelligence.

Being on guard against “group think” is important, and I’m happy to push back, even when I am not that convicted in my point, just to check the group. But that sort of diligence is not the same as maverick, emperor-has-no-clothes style of dissent or obvious ego-based opinion-making. I suspect we all bat a low average when most of the room sees it one way and we see it another.

Sometimes we save the day, and that’s no small thing. But be gracious when the people around you think you’re wrong. You probably are!

Board members, don’t let yourselves get too enamored by the platitudes of highly credentialed colleagues prone to solo-synergy. Following ideas based on who presents them can lead you down the wrong path. Conversely, never lose sight of the fact that sometimes the dissenters, the colorful orators, the dreamers, even the egotists, can save the day.

Always be gracious with them, and remember, there is a parking lot on the whiteboard where you can gently set their ideas. ●

Daniel Flowers is President and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank

Daniel Flowers

President and CEO


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