Last week, I found myself on a hotel’s airport shuttle at 5:30 AM. Yes, you feel my pain but I expect no sympathy since you’ve been there too. The bus was loaded with airline crew members on their way out to another day in the less-friendly skies.
Perhaps to set the mood, the driver had his radio tuned to a political talk radio station. Somehow, the host had found some caller who – at 5:30 AM EDT – was already amped up in full talk radio mode. He must have had some very bitter coffee that morning because he was in full rant about a very well known politician and how this particular leader was a complete waste of space.
Those of us on the bus exchanged bemused (and bleary-eyed) looks. I could tell that we were all switching that radio show into background noise, wishing the driver would give us all a little peace and quiet. But whether the driver did or not (and whether we agreed with the caller or not), we were mentally switching him off.
That reminded me of something I see when doing collaborative strategy sessions with clients. Some leaders are adept at turning conversation and creativity on. They ask questions. They’re curious. They don’t need to act like they’re the smartest people in the room (though they often are).
Unfortunately, these “switched on” leaders are relatively unusual. More often than I’d like to say, at least one person (sometimes even the most senior person) in the room acts more like the talk radio guest. They interrupt. They listen poorly. They make it clear that disagreeing with them has consequences. In really rough cases, they ooze contempt for any opinion contrary to their own.
Like the caller on talk radio they create great theater, but lousy creative outcomes. They’re not bad people. They may even be geniuses. But if their organization desperately needs a switched-on leadership team, they might just have a problem because that clicking sound they hear is the team switching off.
P.S. If you have a leader on your team who keeps people switched on, why not thank them today? You know as I do that they’re a rare breed.