My job requires me to give people advice occasionally. Every so often, someone actually listens. I gave a group of managers this advice recently:
“Be a sponge, not a hose.” In other words:
- Stop spewing all over everyone around you. Stop trying to be heard, and instead try to understand. Be just a little less enamored with the sound of your own voice, and the beauty of your own opinions and ideas.
- Start absorbing, listening and learning. Ask questions; seek the truth — about yourself, your behavior, your environment, your customers, the world around you. Think, then speak. Attract and nourish talented, creative people; go out of your way to find people smarter than you. Figure out where the gaps are in your knowledge and skills, and get to work eliminating them.
In my experience, most managers are taught to be a “hose,” if you will. Daily managerial life can be a struggle for attention and affirmation, and against overload, as well as a competition for scarce resources (material and psychological, like power, influence, titles). Generating attention and noise, and spraying a command-and-control attitude, then, are thought of as survival skills.
Truly great leadership goes beyond mere survival, doesn’t it? Mastery flows from clarity of purpose and mission and a form of humility that, paradoxically, grants you a quiet confidence that liberates you to listen, learn, and absorb.
The “hose” repels; the “sponge” attracts.
The “hose” belies an insecurity; the “sponge,” a confident pursuit of mastery.