Do you spend the majority of your day fighting fires and directing traffic? If so, you know how hard leadership can be. I’m sure you can relate: Things must get done, efforts fall behind. You can’t wait for others to ‘figure it out’ or ‘step up to the plate’ so you jump in and take action.
The irony is – it works (at least it for awhile). You push others over the finish line, but only through brute force. No one is really listening or learning. Consequently, you are going to be back in the same situation tomorrow or next week. It is the organizational equivalent of Ground Hog Day.
The paradox is this. When you feel most disconnected and/or removed from what is happening you shouldn’t grab the wheel and direct traffic. Instead, you should let go, listen and learn. In other words, when you don’t have a good sense of what is going on, one of the best ways to figure it out is to shut up and listen.
There are many aspects of a leader’s job description that benefit greatly from slowing down and listening. Here are a couple of your responsibilities and an overview of how listening can help:
Develop your staff – listen to their ideas, perspectives and suggestions. Build from their input (instead of solving the problem yourself.) They become better problem-solvers because they do the work as you tweak and adjust. They get stronger and more reliable. Use listening to coach/develop your people.
Uncover core issues – slow down the conversation, dig into information, listen for true root cause (as opposed to quick, duct-tape solutions). Listen for systemic issues and challenges. Stay above the conversation – listen for meaning/intention not content. Use listening (and probing) to identify systemic issues.
Increase Accountability – when employees realize you are going to slow down and really listen – they change their behavior. If the norm is to truly figure out what is happening and why – the dialogue changes and problems get solved. Instead of jumping in to save the day, listen for their explanation; make them tell you what they learned or what they’d do differently next time.
Get ‘smarter’ – when you listen you learn. When you talk you don’t. Simple. The more you listen the better you understand the issues in your organization and the perspective of your people. You may or may not agree – it doesn’t matter. The knowledge allows you to better customize your approach to leading.
These are just a few of the areas your leadership can improve. I predict you’ll find many more if you commit to doing the work.
Do the Work:
- Watch yourself for a week – get a base line on how much time you spend listening versus talking. You may not be aware of how often you talk (and how little you listen). Becoming aware of your listening:talking ratio is the first step. it can be enough to start a behavior change.
- Identify a venue to start practicing (e.g., your staff meeting, “hallway” conversations, performance management efforts). This gives your effort focus. Don’t just say, “I’m going to be a better listener.” Be deliberate and pick one place to start. Give that your full attention and make notable and sustainable change. When that is better – add a different venue.
- Educate yourself with regard to common probes/questions to use that promote more discussion and less talking. The classic would be an open-ended probe versus a close ended probe. The better you understand different types of questions (and what they are designed to do), the better you can listen and learn.
- Engage and practice. Try to increase your listening by 20 to 50% over the next couple of weeks. Be deliberate. It will take practice. Log the effort. Get someone to offer you feedback. Take the time to master this skill.
- EXTRA CREDIT: Use your phone to audio tape your interaction. Listen to it later to hear how well you are truly listening.