Leaders need to listen more. The wonderful book by Susan Cain Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking could be adapted for leaders as Powerful Insights for Leaders Who Finally Stop Talking.
Leaders simply need to listen more and talk less.
Leaders are promoted because of their ability, their insight and their positive contribution to the organisation. Unfortunately, this can breed a level of hubris that suggests their views are more valid that those of others. “They made me the boss because I’m smarter than the others”.
Clearly the really smart leaders are those who are capable of accessing the full contributions of those around them. The wisdom of the crowd will, in most cases, far exceed the contribution of the single egotistical boss.
Being a good listener has never been easy.
Deep, mindful, active listening without judgement is a higher order skill. Just giving someone your undivided attention is difficult in a world obsessed with multi-tasking.
Adding additional skills of acknowledging the other person, summarising, paraphrasing and questioning, all without interrupting or making premature judgements about the content or emotion behind what the person has to say, requires a very adept communicator.
Even having all these skills is not enough. The other party needs to feel sufficient trust and positive regard from you before they will give you something to listen to. This trust is built over time and is based on past experience.
A one-off interaction is never going to have the other person sharing everything they know and feel about a situation. This is the reason we only ever share our most intimate and deep seated emotions with our best friend. We can trust them with this information and know they will listen, unconditionally.
If, over time, our staff come to believe we have a genuine interest in what they have to say and we are willing to give them the time to listen, then they will naturally be more forthcoming. They will raise issues without being asked and will contribute actively when requested.
This does not mean you have to agree with everything they say or implement all their suggestions. Most followers will acknowledge that would be an unreasonable expectation. However, knowing that you have been heard is enough for most of us.
One small step in the next 24 hours
Just like any skill, listening takes practice. Choose two or three interactions when you make a deliberate effort to focus on the quality of your listening.
It does not need to be only at work - it could be at the coffee shop, with your children or anyone else.
Give the other person your full attention, signal through your non-verbals, your paraphrasing and questions that you are truly listening and, most of all, don’t interrupt – you might learn something.