3 Ways to become a better leader: Listen, challenge, and commit

by Christopher Cook

Andrew Grove, the former CEO of Intel, a leader has been labeled “the person most responsible for the amazing growth in the power and the innovative potential of microchips.” He was voted Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1997 for his transformative work in Silicon Valley.

Helping to found Intel and turning it into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Grove may know a thing or two about leadership. “Business success contains the seeds of its own destruction. Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive,” states Grove.

Level 5 leadership ensures this seed of destruction never grows. The future and what it holds motivate team members. The goals and dreams are clearly laid out for all to understand. Each team member is pulling their weight in the same direction. No one is off doing their own thing for their own benefit.

Complacency cannot survive when goals are set, especially if those goals are audacious and scary. The bigger the goals, the less complacency. Paranoia sets in that these goals are too big and nearly impossible. Once reached, the confidence it instills is endless. If you can do this, then why not that? And even that seems small compared to what you can really do.

These grandiose ideas need Level 5 leaders at all levels. It is not one person leading the entire crew. There must be leaders within the team, leaders above the team, and leaders at the vendors and suppliers you deal with. No one person makes these dreams a reality.

Grove gives three ways for a leader to help reach that Level 5 status.


Have the humility to listen. The project manager is not an all-knowing being who can shut their ears off to the world and plow straight ahead as if there are no consequences. The higher up the ladder one goes, the more important listening becomes.

Your team is always telling you something. It may not be verbal, and it is likely not direct. If you watch closely, they respond, and you should listen. The implementation of new software, the latest production process, or a new hire are all examples of situations where the team is going to deliver a message without necessarily being vocal.

The way they take to each new idea is a sign of how they feel. Are they excited or feel like it is another stretch of the imagination? Do they start to collaborate to make it work, or do they each take their own stances with it and pull it in different directions?

Use your eyes to listen. You have two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. You have more ears and eyes, so use them appropriately. Verbal and nonverbal communication needs to be listened to, not just heard.


Level 5 leaders have the confidence to challenge. The challenge is not to knock down the ideas and triumph with yours. It is to find the right answer. Sometimes, you have a solution. Other times, your team members provide the correct direction. In either case, both sides should be challenging the idea to make it stronger.

If your idea is bulletproof to the people that know the ins and outs of it, then the rest of the world is ready to experience it. Iron sharpens iron. That is the idea behind challenging. Not to be king or queen of the hill and knock everyone else off of it, but to build each idea up to its greatest potential.

It takes confidence to challenge others. You must not be afraid to look stupid in front of others. If the leader can question and be questioned, then everyone else is fair game for challenging. Also, challenge ideas directly. Be open in your questioning. Do not have closed-door meetings to build a mystery around decisions.

Challenge the idea in the immediacy. Waiting only builds stress and anxiety that could have been squelched days, weeks, or months ago, when it first occurred.


Lastly, Level 5 leaders need to possess the wisdom to know when to quit arguing and to get on board. After listening and challenging directly, make a decision. You should have enough information and feedback to make the right decision for the team at the time.

The ideas have been bulletproofed from everyone’s challenges. The time has passed to make the idea still relevant. The funds have been allocated. Everything is in place to make a decision. You, being the leader, need to step up and commit.

Show your team you are not afraid to change your mind and go with a suggestion other than yours. Show your team you back the decision with 100% confidence. There is no wavering from the decision once it has been made. Team members can sense when you are saying one thing but going to do another. Plus, they find out your true intentions soon enough when the actions take place.

Be the type of leader who not only commits but commits fully.


Andrew Grove gives us three ways to be a better leader. Listen, challenge, and commit, in that order, which can make a project manager a better leader. Your team sees that you listen and follow through on what they say. You challenge directly, so people know who says what and why. You commit to the decision that the team has made, not that you have made.

By following these steps, you create a collaborative environment in which people want to learn, grow, and work. They look forward to the day ahead and not dread it. They want to share crazy, hair-brained ideas with you. Even if the idea is out of this world now, who says it cannot work in five, ten, or twenty years from now?

The challenges make you and everyone else around you better. No one can get complacent in their work because the team will not allow it. It is not some edict from you like a dictator. The atmosphere is self-disciplining because each team member impacts another. If one team member pulls the slightest off course, the team adjusts as a group.

Be a Level 5 leader. Listen, challenge, and commit.


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