Recently, Nina and I attended an interview of Bill Rauch, the departing artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). Among his other responsibilities, Bill would direct at least one play each season at OSF.
He was asked what the three essentials of being a good director were. Bill said: "Listen, listen, listen."
Bill said that as a director, he comes to a play with an idea of how it should be done. He feels attached to that idea, which is quite natural.
An actor might come to Bill during the rehearsal of a scene and say that there might be a different way, a better way, of approaching the scene than Bill had described.
Bill said upon hearing that, he would typically feel a sense of ownership of his original idea, often leading him to not seriously consider what the actor had said. Being aware of this tendency in himself, Bill then worked at detaching himself from his idea so he could consider what the actor was suggesting.
Often doing so would lead Bill to try out what the actor suggested. The upshot is some of the ideas stick, some of them don't, and some get combined with Bill's original ideas.
By seriously considering the actors' suggestions and trying them out in the rehearsal room, Bill then became more solidly regarded as a leader because he shared his authority with the others in the room, not always insisting on his ideas exclusively.
In a small business, the owner is usually in the same position as Bill was as the director. The owner has a lot of the drive and power. How those are used when working with their employees can inspire or demotivate the very people who the owner depends on.
Listening helps you learn a lot, much more than if you are doing all the talking. By truly hearing and, more importantly, trying out the ideas of others (at least once in a while), you show them respect and they become, consequently, more engaged.
This leads to more success for all involved.
I had to learn this lesson. One of the best ways to put this into practice as a business owner is to ask clarifying questions of the employee with the idea. The questions must be asked with no judgment on your part. You truly want to learn by listening.
If you do this and then decide that the best course of action does not involve the employee's idea, you will be likely to still have their buy-in. And sometimes your original idea can get tweaked or changed into something better than you would have ever come up with on your own.
Being a good leader means not being too attached to your own ideas. Keep that in mind and your team will produce great work for and with you.