Can You Be Zero?
Randy Wolken, President & CEO

As a leader, are you willing to be zero? When you are in a conversation, can you just be completely present and listen fully and without any intent to contribute to the effort at that moment? Leaders have a tough time doing that.

A vital leadership concept involves determining when to add something, just be there, or subtract something (+, 0, -). As leaders, we usually have been trained to add value. We have been rewarded for “making a difference,” “taking the lead,” and “having the answers.” This is the addition (+) we get paid for, and rightfully so. However, if we always try to add to the situation – does it become a subtraction (-)? I think so.

As a leader, when we are always trying to add and not letting others contribute, we subtract from the team’s success equation. Often, what is asked of us is just to be available to listen. We must be present and affirm that others have provided value. I call it “being zero.” When I am “being zero,” I avoid subtracting from what others are contributing. It allows others to move quickly and contribute. Even my reactions – both negative and positive – can subtract (-) from a conversation and decision-making process. Being neutral – even for a few moments – helps others contribute. However, it is undoubtedly hard to just be present.

So, why is it so hard for leaders, especially senior leaders, to just be present? I believe it has something to do with our understanding of responsibility and power. We feel responsible for everything. And, at some level, we are undoubtedly accountable for all that transpires. However, does that mean we are responsible for doing it? Nope. We are only ultimately accountable. Therefore, the responsibility falls rightly to our team. We are subtracting when we try to do it for them.

This is the value of flatter organizations – more responsibility and accountability and a chance for leaders to listen first-hand to the challenges of their teams. To do so, we must listen – be zero – to help our team take the lead and be wildly successful.

So, pause and listen next time you feel compelled to have the answer. Strategies I have found helpful include:

  • Counting to 10 before attempting to respond.
  • Asking a question that encourages my team to explain their thinking.
  • Applauding their contribution before I offer any additional insight.

There are dozens of ways to encourage greater team ownership and contribution. However, it usually includes me listening first. When I have, I see amazing things happen.