I spend a lot of time coaching executives in the corporate world, and one of those executives recently asked what advice I most often provide to leaders. As I pondered this question over my Starbucks Grande-Skinny-Peppermint-Mocha-Frappuccino-2%-No Whip, an old nursery rhyme came to mind:
Because most leaders have strong opinions and personalities, I have a hard time getting them to listen so that they can take into account the perspective of the person which whom they are talking. Thanks to the inane insistence of having a meeting based on the prior meeting to prepare for the next meeting, everyone is working at a Red Bull pace that requires fast delivery of messages. Listening is scaled down in this environment, and wisdom is the price.
I remember one CEO who was preparing to receive a subordinate’s perspective on his operating system. Talking to me before the presentation he said, This guy needs to know that we’re going with my system choice and that’s just how it is. He doesn’t need an explanation and I dread talking to him because he just talks non-stop.
Well, there are certain points in negotiations where I would say his hard-line approach might be necessary. But since this CEO had yet to hear this person’s perspective on this topic, I thought it might behoove him to listen first. And sometimes the talkative guy has the solutions.
I said to him, Open your mind before this meeting – you need the right solution. Find out why he is worried about your system, and why he thinks his would be more effective. Limit the time so his presentation is crisp. Take notes while he talks. Make eye contact, and nod — but only if you agree. Ask him a minimum of three questions about what he just said. Then share your opinion, based upon what you’ve heard. It ended up that the presenter had some information on the CEO’s system choice that was both valid and a little concerning.
Here’s what listening will do for a leader:
Even though the Wise Old Owl nursery rhyme was probably written to reinforce the notion that children should be seen and not heard (something I would support after a recent dinner at a local restaurant), I think it works for leaders. Listen to others, and your job will be a lot easier.
Tell me about a leader you know who listens intently. What is one behavior that he or she exhibits that lets you know they’re listening?