Award-winning entrepreneur and creativity expert Josh Linkner wrote a recent piece for Forbes.com on why it’s important to welcome ideas from anyone–at all levels–in your company:
Modern leadership technique models all point to an “open door” style. With this practice, employees have the ability to approach their leader with questions at any time. This philosophy of openness makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t go far enough. The door should be open not only for questions, but also for ideas – even if that means an influx of terrible ones.
Whether it’s in a pop-in, impromptu chat or in a team brainstorming session or a formal board meeting, you (as a leader) should encourage people to bring forward their ideas – and then, you should embrace what they suggest… even if it’s awful.
Next time someone comes to you with an idea, let’s say it’s well, less than enticing (to put it kindly). Your first instinct as a leader is to tell the person that’s a terrible idea for the direction of the company, or something not related to the current plan, or won’t fit in budget, or any other negative assessment. The person goes back to his or her cube, having internalized your feedback. While it nips this idea in the bud, which is most likely positive, you’ve created a much larger problem going forward. Through your comments and your “closed door” response, you’ve subconsciously trained that person to never bring forward an idea again. This is only exacerbated with a timid or new team member, who built up enough courage to make a suggestion in the first place, only to be shot down like an unsuspecting pheasant – no chance.
Rather than being closed and the first to come to logic, utilize a more productive approach: respond without judgment and have a conversation about it. “Tell me more about this.” “How did you come up with this idea?” “Where do you see this idea going?” Don’t lie and tell the person it’s great – you don’t want to pander to them, nor do you want to set something in motion that your gut tells you isn’t in line with the mission you’ve set out to achieve. That being said, you have the ability to encourage a valuable discussion. By doing so, you’ve validated your employee’s thought process and she’s had an opportunity to express herself.
Let’s say she comes to you with nine more bad ideas. So what? That tenth idea could be the gem you’ve been waiting for, the one that’s transformational to your organization. Ordinarily, this priceless jewel would have never surfaced, had you kept putting all the ideas down.
It’s great to keep your door open – answer questions brought forward by everyone on your team. As a leader this didactic practice helps ensure you’re seen as a teacher, rather than a self-entitled bureaucrat. Take your open door one step further, accepting all ideas (even the worst of the bunch) at face value and encouraging team members to share them. You’ll be amazed with the outpouring of suggestions, one of which could be the nugget you need to lead the group to the next level.