Listening and Paying Attention

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.” — Peter Nulty

There is a common trap for leaders, especially very experienced ones, and that is the notion that talking with employees is the key to communications.  The real key is listening and paying attention to them, sincerely and in a way that develops a true understanding of their views, concerns, and emotions.

Of course it’s important to impart the leader’s view point, information, and thoughts, but the real prize is in listening and asking questions to develop a rapport and a professional connection that binds the leader and employee to the common issues of the organization.  Employee opinions matter and tell discerning leaders volumes about the organization, its problems, innovations, solutions, health, and future.  But leaders have to genuinely listen, pay attention, care enough to understand, to tweeze out the underlying meaning, subtle nuances, and unstated implications of the voices of employees.

There is a tendency by some leaders to approach communications as a sterile exchange of views, a sharing of facts, issues, and the exercise of a routine process.  It is much, much more than that.  It should be an intimate engagement, an opportunity for leaders to see into the heart of the organization and understand the layers of meaning, things left unsaid, and to empathize with those closest to solving organizational problems and performing its missions.  Even when leaders have heard it all before, they need to listen and pay attention again and again to hear the voices that need to be heard to help the organization succeed.  It is a sign of respect, even flattery.  Unlike leaders’ mouths, their ears will never get them into trouble.

 “Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.” — Larry Barker

Many thanks, Keith Stalder, #20

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