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Learn, don’t tell, to gain credibility

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

CredibilityAt age 19, Beth Brooke-Marciniak interned at a General Motors plant in Kokomo, Ind. Unlike other summer interns who wield little responsibility, she was given the job of supervising assembly line workers.

Many of her employees were more than double her age. They had spent decades at the factory and couldn’t believe they were reporting to someone younger than many of their daughters.

Faced with their disbelieving looks, she held her ground. But instead of asserting her authority, she adopted a curious, respectful tone.

The plant manufactured audio speaker systems for cars. Knowing almost nothing about their work, Brooke-Marciniak met with each individual and asked lots of questions. Her favorites included:

-What are you doing?

-How are you doing it?

-What do you like about it?

-What drives you crazy?

-How can we do better?

When they started to answer, she remained quiet and attentive. (“Introverts,” she notes when recalling the experience, “you have the advantage here.”) Once they noticed her genuine interest in learning from them, they opened up even more.

By the end of her internship, she had won the workers over. They were producing zero defects and earning recognition for their superior work.

“We created a shared sense of purpose,” she says. “And all I did was to listen, empower the workers on the line to think bigger, to challenge the status quo and to knock obstacles out of their way.

“Diplomacy brought us together and ensured that we succeeded,” she adds. “As the pace of change accelerates and you want to run ahead as fast as you can, don’t let the hard work of compromise lose out.”

Today, Beth Brooke-Marciniak is the global vice chair of public policy at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), and serves on EY’s global executive board.

—Adapted from “3 ways to be a diplomat in your life and work,” Beth Brooke-Marciniak, www.weforum.org.

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