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Ken Keller: Beware of the ‘all transmission, no reception’ owner

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: November 27, 2010 10:07 p.m.
Updated: November 28, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Robert Sutton was interviewed for the current issue of Inc. magazine to promote his new book, “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be The Best …and Learn from the Worst.” One of the frequent comments Sutton heard during his research is that there is an overabundance of talking done by the person at the top, and not enough listening. 

It has become increasingly noticeable that there are three types of owners running businesses today.

Type No. 1
The first type is the owner who knows what he or she doesn’t know, but doesn’t seek answers to fill in what is missing. This person is often blindsided by events because he or she isn’t paying attention. This person is always reacting because he or she doesn’t know how — or care to know how — to be proactive.

What is typical of this ownership style is to remain behind closed doors, aloof, working on some details of the business, or perhaps something other than the business. People line up outside this owner’s office to bring forth problems, issues and concerns. When granted an audience, the owner says little, asks few or no questions, perhaps states that the issue will be
handled and usually takes no action.

This person is typified by Arthur Carson, the character responsible for running the fictional WKRP radio station in Cincinnati in the sitcom series of the 70s. Despite the fact that he ran a business based on transmission — all he did was receive.

Type No. 2
The second type is the person who knows what he or she doesn’t know, but works hard to learn what he or she doesn’t know. This is a blend of reception and transmission.

People remember Gen. George Custer for his last stand. What people don’t remember was that he was a brave leader in the Civil War. Custer gained the respect because he wasn’t impulsive nor a recluse; he asked a lot of questions to gain the information he needed before issuing orders. At Little Big Horn, he blundered because his ego got in the way; Custer asked questions; he just didn’t like the answers.

Type No. 3
The third type of owner is the kind who knows it all. They are all transmission and no reception. Picture Donald Trump.

This kind of leader has been around for centuries. What is Marie Antoinette most remembered for?
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” was written by Hans Christian Andersen almost 200 years ago, and remains a strong message today.

Two weavers promise their leader a new suit of clothes that are invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid or incompetent.

Yet an innocent, young child states the obvious to the assembled crowd: The emperor is not wearing any clothes at all.

The emperor ends up looking like the idiot he is because he failed to ask questions of his weavers and to discern the answers. The “know-it-all” doesn’t really know it all. In fact, even though they may be very bright and very articulate, the truth is that they cannot be taught because they don’t want to be taught.

The best type
The best business owners ask a lot of questions. They seek to learn. By asking questions, they grow as owners. But more importantly, when the owner asks a lot of questions, the people around them grow even more.

This kind of owner is not afraid to ask what others consider to be “dumb questions” because the best owners know that there isn’t such a thing as a dumb question.

When interviewing potential employees, the best owners ask more far more questions of the applicant than their less effective counterparts. The better owners aren’t trying to sell their company; they are asking probing questions to learn as much as they can about the individual sitting in front of them.

At a staff meeting, the best owners defer to others to present to talk and discuss agenda topics. They do not sit at head of the table pontificating. The better owners understand that their role is to ask questions, to listen and to facilitate success,
not to command it.

During a performance evaluation, the best owners let those being reviewed discuss how they have done; allowing the employee to outline successes and failures, and listening when the person reviewed presents their own plan for self-growth and learning.

The one resolution business owners should make for the new year is to make a concerted effort to turn the reception level way up, and cut the transmission level in half.

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, helping top executives make better decisions through informed peer perspective, resulting in better top and bottom-line results. He can be reached at (661) 295-6892 or Mr. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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