My Leadership Challenge; Was I the Smartest Person in the Room or Was It Insecurity?
Oops, I did it again. It’s like a tic, a twitch, an involuntary movement. I just can’t stop interrupting people. As the leader, did I need to be the most persistent voice in the room?
I’ve been trying so hard to clean up a bad habit of mine. It’s like a tic, a twitch, an involuntary movement. I just can’t stop interrupting people. I’ve learned some good tricks that help like jotting a note to myself instead of saying it out loud or telling myself to just wait, take a breath. This works some of the time but just not often enough. I can’t seem to get the knack of comprehensive listening.
Funny (not funny) story from last week. I was in a weekly team meeting and one of the items to discuss was updating our thoughts on return to office work. Everyone offered their two cents as we went around our Zoom boxes. I just couldn’t help commenting on each point by either interrupting (FYI, a no-no for our virtual norms) or sending off chat remarks. It didn’t depend on the quality of the ideas; it was all about me. I just couldn’t contain myself. After the meeting, one of the more courageous people asked to speak with me privately. They offered some very pointed feedback about my constant interruption and inability to truly hear others. Everything in me wanted to react defensively but, as the leader, I knew better. It took a lot of guts for this person to come forward and I had to behave.
It didn’t depend on the quality of the ideas; it was all about me. I just couldn’t contain myself.
Honestly, I felt ashamed.
This is a chronic problem.
I really need to fix this before I hurt my career. So, I went to my fountain of tough love. I had a serious sit-down with Rene, my best work buddy. “Micah, what do you think is going to happen if you let someone finish their own thought before you share yours?” “The discussion will go sideways. I need to get us on the right path,” I said.
I didn’t even need to wait for Rene’s response because hearing the words out loud were a bit horrifying. Rene gave me that hairy eyeball look, shook their head and said, “Just so we are clear, you are not the only smart person in the room. I think your interruptions are your insecurities showing through. I think you fear that if you aren’t the most persistent voice in the room that you won’t be seen as the smartest. You need to get a grip, Micah. This is not your most endearing quality. In fact, it’s a huge tell.”
Rene speaks more truth than I know what to do with on the best of my days. So, I need to get at the bottom of this at a much deeper level. My mentor, a leadership coach, a therapist? I need help with this one. Wish me luck!
Most of our clients struggle with some version of Micah’s leadership challenge. What we uncover in our leadership coaching sessions is a significant degree of anxiety and insecurity. People feel compelled to interrupt repeatedly in the hopes that their ideas will be adopted as the best ones. We find that when we focus on comprehensive listening skills (patience, tuning in, asking questions, being curious, taking in new input), people can open their minds and reduce their worries. It also helps to keep their eye on the ultimate goal (finding the best solution) rather than their own self-centered needs.