Your Leadership Wake: How Do You Listen to Others?

Leadership Lesson: You can’t lead if you don’t listen to your people or your environment. They see and know what you don’t. Get in the habit of listening.

This previous post had broken down the power and influence of leadership impact and introduced this series of posts covering where the wake from a leader’s actions can be observed and felt.

It outlined how a leader — or anyone, for that matter — can create and leave behind a positive, exhausting, or neutral experience for those around them, based on how they approach different areas such as collaboration, communication, and expression.

It asked us to consider what a leader leaves in their wake.

This post is one of many in the series which breaks down a few of the areas in which a leader has the ability – and opportunity, depending on how you look at it – to establish their impact and set the resulting ripple effect and tone for each of the areas to be covered.

To assess a targeted area of their leadership impact, each post will outline a consideration the leader should take into account by answering a specific question.

In this post, the question which should be asked by a leader is…

How Do I Listen to Others?

How you take in information as a leader is just as important as how much of it you provide. It’s important to seek out others’ thoughts, in addition to maintaining expectations for the work and responsibilities they carry out.

Listening has to be genuine, stemming from true curiosity.

So how does your listening shape the leadership impact? What does it look like in the positive, exhausting, or neutral experience?

The Positive Experience

In the positive experience, the leader seeks the guidance, advice, and opinion of others they interact with. It’s not a game of ego, but, instead, a habit of making sure all the right tools are harnessed to proceed in the best possible fashion.

As a result, the workforce feels heard and understood and, therefore, feels more at ease and comfortable in their environment. More trust exists in the system.

The result is an organization which is more efficient, transparent, and honest. Aside from allowing people to be heard, listening also allows for more innovation as ideas are heard, vetted, and implemented, where possible.

This is the positive experience because the organization flows more naturally and productively. And the free flow of information can only contribute to success if it is captured. Listening is the first step to capture those contributions.

The Exhausting Experience

In the exhausting experience, there is barely any listening, or the listening is not genuine. A colleague can tell that their ideas or thoughts are not being considered or are being dismissed based on tepid responses and condescending body language returned by the leader.

As a result, the workforce is more frustrated because it is not being heard. It feels disconnected, wondering what the use is in carrying out the work if concerns, recommendations, and suggestions fall on deaf ears.

The result is an organization that would likely and eventually collapse, whether completely or at least into disarray, if this environment were to continue long enough. Potential transformation and innovation are not able (allowed) to permeate from one area of the work to the other, whether laterally or vertically.

This is the exhausting experience because no one feels they can convey their ideas. Ideas are what make up someone’s worth as an employee. Even an employee’s technical work itself cannot happen without their own habits of observation, adjustments in approach, or generation of ideas. When you shut off listening, you’re losing out on best practices. Feeling unheard can make someone feel as if they serve no purpose.

The Neutral Experience

In the neutral experience, the listening stops at the facts. There is nothing beyond the information. Interactions sound more like an evidence-collecting effort and less like a conversation. There is no effort by the leader to truly understand the other person.

As a result, the workforce says enough to get stuff done. They’ve provided information about what is going on, but no curiosity exists on the part of leadership to go beyond what is currently happening, to consider where the organization could possibly go. People have enough to feel confident in today, but there’s no reason to contribute to tomorrow.

The result is an organization moving along but not as quickly as it could be. The organization is leaving ideas on the table by not listening further. Deeper listening allows leadership to ask follow-up questions and get to what employees might not be able (or willing) to articulate on their own.

This is the neutral experience because, as with other wake-resulting neutral experiences in the other posts listed below, just enough is getting done, but the organization, leadership, and employees collectively forgo further opportunity. There’s that opportunity cost to not listening. What are we not able to achieve – what are we leaving on the table – because we’re not listening?

Even though it may not be perceived as an overt action in its traditional execution, listening is not a passive habit; it is very much active. In it, one finds the proactive steps of targeting, processing, organizing, analyzing, etc., when it comes to information.

Before any of those steps, one has to want to listen – to develop and prepare oneself, others, and their organization or mission.

So much of what helps improve an organization, executive, leader, manager, front-line worker, etc., comes from keeping an open mind and taking in new information.

Maintaining that open mind, and always being open to new information is the foundation of evolution. And evolution means survival.

Are you listening now?

Questions to consider for the leadership wake:

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