Increasing Speed in Leadership

I was recently asked a broad question about how to increase speed when leading projects with incredibly smart, opinionated colleagues.  While each of the steps below may seem to be things that would slow you down, in the big picture they will help you speed up your results:

Relationships. Having coffee or lunch with the people that you work with is a foundation for building trust. I asked the young scientist I was talking to: had he ever had lunch with the people involved? Did he know how many kids they had? Relationships that go beyond work interactions are a foundation of trust that allows for better and faster interactions. All of us are more comfortable working with people that we know and like and trust, and this produces real business impact.

Communication strategy. If you’re leading a project, it’s worthwhile early on to step back and think strategically and inclusively about who needs to be involved, and when. If an important stakeholder is left out early on, that stakeholder may cause a problem later in the life cycle of the project.  Think about senior people as well as more junior people, and map out a strategy of inclusion to make sure that all the right people get heard at the right times.

Listening. Listening may sound like something that will take up more time instead of improving speed. But actually, listening speeds up the process because when people don’t feel they are being listened to, then tend to say a lot more, and repeat themselves more.  When people do feel heard, they’re more willing to move on to the next topic. In one study of high-stakes mediation, it was found that simply repeating back what the other person had said before making your own point cut the overall time of the mediation in half. So far from slowing things down, good listening will speed them up overall.

Speaking impactfully and diplomatically. This really contains two points. Speaking impactfully means being able to make your point crisply by stating the key idea in a brief and clear way, and then following the key idea with any follow-up points that support it. There’s an art to making a point persuasively and quickly, and it can be learned through practice. If the stakes are very high, I recommend practicing key points, what you will say, and how you will say it, more than once in advance of a critical meeting.

Being able to speak with some diplomacy is important because if you inadvertently insult the person you’re talking to or if they get defensive, it will slow down your communication. Everything will take more time. If their amygdala starts to heat up (a stress reaction in the brain), they will lose some of their capacity to do their best and most productive thinking.  Communicating diplomatically is a way that you can help others stay calm and help everyone be as productive as possible. Speaking diplomatically may be as simple as acknowledging that there’s value in the person’s idea before disagreeing with it, or saying that your idea is different without suggesting that it’s better.

While all of these practices may take some time to get used to, in the long run they will result in faster and smoother execution of your vision.