As leaders, we should always encourage our team to be as passionate about new ideas as we are. We should encourage this verbally in staff meetings, brag on people who brought a new idea to the table that became a big deal, even have fun reminiscing over ideas that were epic failures. New ideas and constantly rethinking old processes is vital to a company that wants to grow.
As leaders, we also know that it takes a lot of bad ideas and failed ideas to discover the best ideas. As a seasoned businessperson, you stopped taking failed or rejected ideas personally years ago. But remember back to a time when you wanted to impress your boss with a new idea. You thought about it repeatedly. You changed your mind a thousand times about whether to take it upstream to your CEO. It was an anxious process to say the least.
Now fast forward to today. Things are fast paced; high pressure and you’ve got a thousand things on your mind. Someone from your team that you don’t normally spend time with has asked for a few minutes of your time in your office. They come in and are visibly nervous as they begin to unpack the worst idea you’ve heard all year. You hate the idea before they get halfway through their power point slides that seem to last forever. If this were a recorded TED talk, you would shut your laptop and get back to something more important. But it’s not a recorded TED talk…it’s a person you hired and asked to think about new ways to make things better.
So what do you do? If you’re an enneagram 8, I can audibly hear you telling me why you don’t sugar coat things and why your team needs to have thick enough skin to hear how bad their idea is. I get that. But if you do that, there is an 80% chance this person hears that you think they are as dumb as their idea was. They will play it a thousand times in their mind and conclude that you have lost all faith in them and that they’ve been demoted from someone you barely knew to someone you no longer want on your team at all.
Consider this instead. You have a team member that cared enough to have a new idea. They had courage enough to bring it to the top. And that person is sitting in front of you now. Instead of pronouncing your verdict before they are even finished, ask questions…lots of questions. Ask questions that show your interest in how they think. Ask tough questions that help them improve their critical thinking skills. Then brag on this person for the effort they obviously put into this presentation. Tell them you wish more people would do the same. Finally, ask them if it would be alright with them if you think about their idea overnight and respond tomorrow. Tomorrow, you find ten minutes in your day to call them back in with their leader. Now is the time to be clear with them that you don’t feel the idea is one you want to pursue right now and why. Go ahead and give them any feedback that might’ve helped you like the idea more, like more data or a higher ROI. Then finish with a final word that you are impressed with their initiative and that you are glad they cared enough to bring this idea to you.
This small extra investment of time and consideration tells them that you took the time to consider what they brought you. It will infuse energy and enthusiasm into your team member. They won’t care at all that you didn’t implement their idea but they will tell the story of your belief in them years later when they are one of your company’s top leaders.