Open dialogue and collaboration can take your organization to the next level when exceptional ideas are embraced for their inherent value, regardless of the source. But being able to listen to both grassroots and world-renowned thought leaders and champion employee-engagement and customer-feedback programs requires checking your ego at the door—and getting your managers to do the same.
1. Focus on the team’s goal, not individual bragging rights
Whether leader or follower, engage with and listen to people who are more talented (in certain areas) than you are. All of you are needed to invent something new, find real-world applications to lofty ideas, or react to changing conditions.
2. Recognize that creativity, wisdom and brilliance are packaged in many different forms
The most eloquent or persuasive speaker is not always the person who dreams up the best ideas. The person who appears to be the plainest may be the most innovative. The quirky, the ornery, or the humorous may hold the answers, give the insights, or articulate the direction you seek.
3. Acknowledge that anyone can contribute to the conversation, analysis, and ultimately, execution
Anyone can reinvent the game or disrupt the industry, whether he is knowledgeable or oblivious to how things have always been done or whether she has witnessed change over a few months or many years.
4. Appreciate those who seem less astute than you
If these folks are your target audience, you’ll do well to understand what they think, predict how they’ll react to offers, gauge their spending habits, etc. even if they are less fashion-oriented and technologically-savvy than you. That is, those who are not innovators and early adopters buy stuff too.
5. Learn something new
Master a new skill, gain a new piece of knowledge, or do a combination of both. At some point in the learning process, you will feel doubt and frustration. Ask for help, or discover that someone knows more about a subject than you do. Respect for those in another field and patience for those still learning in your area of expertise will grow.
6. Solicit and apply useful feedback
Avoid the compulsion to interrupt, defend yourself, or turn anything less-than-a-praiseful comment into a condemnation of your entire project, program, or product line. Even if the other person, department, or group doesn’t fully understand your perspective and grasp your role, you’ll gain insight into how you and your team are perceived.
7. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses
By acknowledging areas of capability and struggle, you should be able to more clearly define the professional attributes that complement and threaten you.
8. Don’t be afraid to try out a new idea
Many great ideas get tossed out because managers are afraid of failure. Certainly, do whatever is necessary to achieve success and avoid failure. Find ways to minimize the negative impact and financial consequence in the trial phase. Attend to details. Start small.
9. After test runs, reflect on the worthiness of ideas and their execution
Gather lessons learned from all efforts, successful and not-so-successful ones.
10. Listen to people with whom you are supposed to be connecting
Check for common understanding of topics, whether you agree or not. Realize that some use subtle means of making a point, encouraging further inquiry and reflection. Others are direct, leaving no doubt of intent. Understand and value all styles of respectful communication.
Alone, you can make good decisions. Independently, you can craft a feasible, cost-effective plan suitable for your business’s mission and team’s goal. But collaboration means expecting and envisioning greater opportunities, ones that never occurred to you in solitude. Checking your ego means abandoning pursuit of approval, attention, appreciation, and control and then, channeling your energy to discovering and building the best that is possible.