Listen THEN Lead

Many aspiring leaders – and experienced leaders, for that matter – believe they should make judgments and then charge staff to carry out those pronouncements. They think they know everything – or they think that other people think they should know everything – and so they lack the information they need to drive positive action. This often impedes understanding and stifles problem solving. Sometimes this leadership style works out. Often it doesn’t.

I recently experienced a prime “leading without listening” situation:

I consulted with a company where progress on certain critical projects had decreased considerably. Significant time had been spent analyzing the market and strategies; however, the CEO couldn’t determine the problem or the best course of action. Of course, I interviewed that CEO. Then I happened to ride the elevator with a mid-level manager, who asked me the nature of my business and with whom I’d met with upstairs. I told him that I’d just spoken with the CEO. This manager reacted with astonishment and exclaimed that it had been more than six months since the CEO had visited his department and spoken with the staff regarding those projects. He indicated that the company leader was out of the loop and out of touch with the ongoing action of the projects. So how would the leader truly know what was going on or if there were solutions in the works?

The majority of good ideas will come from staff. There are more of them, and they are closer to the opportunities and threats that directly impact business. And, quite possibly, YOU trained them. If you trained them well, you should trust them to offer up solutions.

Remember, listening leaders:

  • Are available and visible. I knew one CEO who got his coffee every day in the company kitchen – not because the coffee was great but because he had the opportunity to speak with a range of employees who he might not ordinarily run into
  • Let employees know that they are interested in what they are doing and what they have to say. (Note: It’s okay not to always have solutions to offer when you are listening.)
  • Encourage staff to push ideas through management – create channels and feedback loops so that critical information is conveyed more quickly.

Are you a leader in New York City, Fairfield County, CT, Columbia County or the Berkshires of MA ready to listen more? Are you a leader ready to learn more? Let’s talk.