Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This week, our adult class of 2017 shifted into high gear with our welcoming retreat, generously sponsored by our 2016 class. The servant leadership characteristic of the day is one of our most emphasized of the year, listening. Robert Greenleaf, who brought modern servant leadership to light, speaks of listening the most in his writing. The premise is easy to understand; how can you serve others and led well if you do not listen? This is my 95th blog and following in the tradition of Robert Greenleaf, it is the topic I too will be most prolific about…so much to say about the power of listening which is defined as “the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process.” Listening and hearing are certainly not the same thing. I can hear much going on around me, but listening is a much more active skill so as to understand what you hear. Listening also means paying attention to visual clues and body language to synthesize effectively what one is hearing. Rachel Naomi Remen reminds us “The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.”
Glenn Llopis in his Forbes article “Six Ways Effective Listening Can Make You a Better Leader” states: “When employees say they want their voices to be heard, they are really saying they want leaders who will not just hear them, but really listen to them. As employees seek more attention, feedback and support, leaders must become more mindful of individual needs in order to more effectively inspire professional development and overall performance. Leaders who listen are able to create trustworthy relationships that are transparent and breed loyalty. You know the leaders who have their employees’ best interests at heart because they truly listen to them.” A comprehensive NY Times article on the team building makes several lucid points on how listening gels team building together. The February 2016 article “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” by Charles Duhgg explored multiple high powered teams and what differentiated their effectiveness. The conclusion after exhaustive study and Google data analysis was simple: “The paradox, of course, is that Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.”
So perhaps with all the evidence leaders should change Nike’s affirmation to ‘Just Do It’ and intend say ‘Just Listen.’ After all, as humans, we are amazing storytellers. Most of us like to tell stories which now has manifested itself as storytelling on Facebook. Our second day of the 2017 leadership retreat focused on the power of storytelling. Henning Mankell in her poignant December 2011 article “The Art of Listening” writes a poignant tale I always remember whenever I am having difficulty listening: “Two old African men were sitting on that bench, but there was room for me, too. In Africa people share more than just water in a brotherly or sisterly fashion. Even when it comes to shade, people are generous. I heard the two men talking about a third old man who had recently died. One of them said, “I was visiting him at his home. He started to tell me an amazing story about something that had happened to him when he was young. But it was a long story. Night came, and we decided that I should come back the next day to hear the rest. But when I arrived, he was dead.” The man fell silent. I decided not to leave that bench until I heard how the other man would respond to what he’d heard. I had an instinctive feeling that it would prove to be important. Finally he, too, spoke. “That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story.”
True words indeed—we all want to tell our stories. Leaders—let us make that happen. Leaders need to understand. Leaders listen!
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ~ Stephen R. Covey