Are You a Transmitter or a Receiver?

Posted 04.26.2012

One of the things I love most about leadership coaching is the opportunity to see lots of different executives in action.  I get to see them in team meetings, in presentations, in one-on-one’s, and just walking around the plant or office.  In addition to the first-hand observations, I usually collect a lot of feedback from the executives’ managers, peers and direct reports.  It’s a lot of good data, and I love culling through it for patterns that underlie high performance.

Here’s a conclusion I’ve come to lately.  The best leaders spend less time transmitting and more time receiving.

The transmitters are so focused on driving their agenda and goals that people eventually tune them out.  It’s sort of like changing the dial on the radio or fast forwarding on the DVR when the commercials come on.  You’ve heard it all so much that you just want to ignore it.

The receivers have agendas and goals as well but they do more than just hammer the message home.  They stop to learn and observe what’s going on with people.  They stop because they think they might actually have something to learn that will help everyone reach or exceed the goal faster and better.

Are you a transmitter or a receiver?  Here’s a quick self-assessment:

  • Do You Know People’s Names?  There’s a funny new show on HBO called Veep in which Julia Louis Dreyfuss plays a total unlikable vice president of the United States.  In the first episode, she has an aide constantly beside her to whisper the name of or personal facts about the person  she’s just about to shake hands.   If you find yourself wishing that you had a secret weapon like that, you’re probably a transmitter.  Receivers take the time to learn people’s names and what’s going on in their lives.
  • Do You Ask People What They Think?  One of my favorite stories of all time was the Inc. magazine profile on their 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year, the late Ken Hendricks.  In around 40 years, he went from being a roofing assistant to owning a multibillion dollar roofing supply company.  He did it by buying one company after another and improving them.  When asked what his most important strategy was, he said he went to the loading dock of the company he had just bought and asked the folks on the dock what they would do if they were in charge.  He then implemented all of their ideas.  He said he had about a 90% hit rate on good ideas and that was good enough to use the strategy again and again.  Receivers ask some version of the question, “What would you do if you were in charge?”
  • Do You Shut Up Enough To Listen?  I love that line about we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.  That’s actually a pretty good ratio.  Receivers tend to listen twice as much as they talk.

So what is it for you – transmission or reception?  What other tips do you have for leaders who want to be receivers more than transmitters?