The One Sound Bad Leaders Don’t Mind Hearing (But Great Leaders Hate)

You may think the sound of silence means heads are down and work is getting done, but it’s time to reconsider. What you should be hearing is the phone ringing, collaborative conversations, or even laughter, just to name a few. Sure, at times, when you’re trying to concentrate, these sounds can be distracting– but they are part of a team’s journey towards success.

Bottom line: silence is a dangerous sound for leaders

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Basketball’s Hall of Fame coach knows silence is scary because the key to teamwork is communication. “Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.”

Instead of going over all the ways for you to communicate better as a leader, I want you to lean into the silence you are hearing because it’s telling you something. If your office or team is silent, it could be a symptom of something greater, like one of these consequences.

The team doesn’t work together well.

Everyone on a team doesn’t have to be best friends, but they do have to work well together. Henry Ford famously said, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” It’s impossible to work together without sound. When teams work together, you’ll hear collaborative conversations or even the sounds of keys hitting the keyboard within a Slack channel. 

On a recent episode of the Disrupt Yourself Podcast with Whitney Johnson, author Marcus Buckingham said every team leader needs to be able to answer three basic questions:

  1. What are my people like (strengths and weaknesses)?
  2. What are they doing right now and how can I help them?
  3. How are they feeling right now and how I can help them?

The team doesn’t care about achieving your mission or goal.

Great leaders inspire and empower their team to achieve things. According to Gallup’s 2018 “State of the American Workplace,” a mere 33 percent of workers are engaged at work. It’s sad to think 1 in 3 professionals can’t wait until the clock strikes 5 PM instead of 8:30 AM. If a team isn’t engaged, they aren’t going to achieve things that matter.

One of the reasons for this is the mission or goal isn’t compelling or worth it for them. Instead of rolling over and just excepting this fate from your team, dig in and connect your team to a deeper purpose.

In our Building the Best Leadership Workshops, I coach leaders to identify a team mission statement that answers the questions, “We do X in order to Achieve Y for Z.” Make sure your team knows the mission of the work they do every day. Hopefully, it goes beyond just making money.

Your products or services are just okay.

One of the most important roles a leader has in today’s complex work environment is to promote innovation. Employees get excited to work on products or implements services that make a difference for clients. When teams get silent during these phases, it means the work is either boring or the products have become commodities. 

A great way to get people talking again is to expand your offerings so current team members have to expand their skill set to align with them. My company LearnLoft expanded our offerings to provide one-on-one coaching to better live out our mission to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. It didn’t take more than a few coaching interactions with our clients for team members to talk about how they could provide better coaching and specific ways to improve their skills. 

The team is bored.

The scrolling epidemic is here. Not only has opening Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn when people are bored become a habit, it only continues to increase. The average time a person spends connected with social networks has increased every single year since 2012. In 2018, the average worldwide average of all generations was 2 hours and 12 minutes.

This means when someone gets bored at work the likelihood they begin scrolling aimlessly is high. Since you are as guilty of this as your people, it’s important to educate and help each other rather than condemn it. Share these statistics with your team and create a weekly challenge to have them speak with someone on your team instead of opening Instagram at work.

The team is waiting for you to tell them what to do next.

If you ask your team what they think or what they should do next, and they’re quiet, it’s because they are either afraid of how you’ll react or they know their ideas don’t matter because you’re going to tell them what to do anyway. The worst leaders dictate what to work on each day. This creates a team of zombies waiting for the next order to come down the line.

What you want are proactive people who make decisions and collaborate with each other whether you are around or not. Start by allowing them to work on their ideas instead of shooting them down or telling them what they should do instead.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company which exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the author the upcoming book Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Successand host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.