Good Habits #22: Be a Sounding Board

By | June 7, 2016

[June 7, 2016]  I remember that day well; one of my junior soldiers came to me to ask questions about how he should deal with a problem sergeant.  With my mindset of not telling people how to do their job but rather just giving tasks, I failed this young man because I failed to consider his suggested ideas.  He just wanted me to be a sounding board for him – he trusted my judgment to test his ideas for probability of success or failure.

Good leadership means being a sounding board for others to push new and creative ideas without risk.  That translates into leaders developing the appropriate social skill sets to actually listen, provide constructive feedback, and do so without putting people at risk of being insulted, disrespected, or turned-off by that leader’s behavior.

The problem of my personal failure in that situation was that it didn’t take long for word to get out that I was not someone who soldiers could bounce ideas off of.  It took time to rebuild that trust and confidence lost by a single incident.  The old Dutch saying that “trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback,” is very appropriate to this situation.

Research into how leaders operate on a day-to-day basis shows that one of the most important aspects of working with others is directly related to how they listen. More than anything else it means listening without judgment – of course much has been written about this aspect of leadership – but it also involves judiciously giving responses that put those seeking advice or input at ease; dampening any fear what they say will somehow be used against them.

When a leader acts as a good sounding board, the benefits extend beyond those seeking comment.  Team performance improves, people get along better with others, there is a greater focus on mission, and overall willingness to risk new, creative ideas.  It is also vital that junior leaders be able to seek seniors who are willing to act as their sounding board.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.