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Humble Leaders are Good Listeners First

You learned that you must be a powerful orator to deliver a speech, be heard, be understood, get a point across, persuade, entertain, engage, motivate and more. If you do not, you will not be able to compete, or win or be an effective leader. Thousands of books have been published to educate the populace on mastering the art of public speaking. Beyond the books are seminars, workshops, videotaped speech training and coaches. The number of books telling you how to talk is several orders of magnitude larger than the ones that tell you how to listen.

Someone once said that you have two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Use them in that proportion. That is sage advice indeed. Why then do so many books emphasize exactly the opposite?

We seem to believe that effective leadership is defined as a force of will, delivered powerfully in impressive oratory fashion. Presumably, if you do that well enough you will lead people anywhere you want to take them. Would that make you a wise leader, or simply a strident person, so intent on dictating the conversation that you never listen? As a result, you never consider the needs and ideas of those they lead.

"If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person's place and to see things from his point of view - as well as your own." Henry Ford.

That implies that you have to spend a great deal of time listening before you talk. A leader cannot learn much about the people they lead if they don't listen to them.

Regardless of your preferred leadership approach, the best advice for you is to learn to change your language. That is, ask questions that serve to clarify intent, misunderstandings, and challenges. Ask questions that lead people to the direction you are proposing. Done right, they may believe they arrived at that conclusion by themselves. Then once you have asked your questions, wait for them to speak and listen to them.

Ask open, non-judgmental questions and you will communicate clearly two things: a) your primary concern is to learn so that you can move the business forward productively, rather than focusing on them individually, b) that you care about their interests and needs and value their insights in helping to guide you and the company forward. People will believe that you care when you ask them questions. If they believe you care, then you will gain their trust in leading them forward.

Instead of announcing a decision and making it a surprise for people on your team, ask them what they think first. That conversation could go something like this: "The issue I'm determined to address is …. The impact on us of this issue is …. My current thoughts about that and ways to address it are …. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this issue and how we can solve it." Guide that conversation to consensus on: a) clarifying issue, b) the impact of the issue on the business, c) acceptable solutions. Then you are ready to make and announce the decision with their full support and understanding.

A good clarifying question is any question that encourages an open and insightful answer rather than proposing a conclusion. Ask if they agree with your views on the impact of the issue and if they see any other impacts that you have not discussed. Ask what they believe would be preferred outcomes for the business in solving the issue. If they provide an answer that doesn't seem specific enough simply ask them "why?", and repeat that until the specifics are clear.

Make sure you give the team time to think through the issue. Encourage them to share their thoughts and be patient to hear them all. The path to empowering your team will be far shorter and stronger this way than by attempting to force them into submission. Getting the team on board and aligned with the issue and the decision to address it up front means that they can immediately go into execution mode when the decision is made.

One final thought on making decisions effective. You must act in accordance with the decision you have announced. It does you no good to talk a lot about something and then to behave a different way. You will fool nobody and you will in fact train the team to behave the same way.

"You can't talk your way out of a situation you behave yourself into." Dr Stephen Covey.

A humble leader engages the team, listens to them and empowers them to be accountable for the decisions made. Instead of one person driving performance, the entire team drives performance.

#listening #communications

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