Hearing is a sense; one of the five senses most of us are born with and take for granted. A few of the simple pleasures I enjoy of life are hearing my kids play together, having coffee outside and listening to the sounds of the morning, or hearing my wife say my name (when she’s happy of course, Lol!)… there’s magic in the sense of hearing and we are unable to turn it off. However, listening is a choice and we have full control of who and what we listen to. Leaders, professionally and personally, choose to listen to information that builds instead of destroys and don’t mind where the information is coming from. The goal is to listen, apply, improve, and EVOLVE!
Unfortunately, too many times as organizations grow, those in positions of power listen less and less to those in the middle and on the front-line! This may happen for several reasons: perhaps the size of the company has also increased the amount of red tape, bureaucracy, and the mess of an org chart. Perhaps it’s ego and leaders couldn’t imagine a front-line employee having better answers or solutions. Perhaps it’s frustration as you’re busy and the onslaught of everyone’s opinion has become annoying or sounds like constant complaints; which feels like a consistent attack against you and your leadership! I could go on, but you get the point. The truth is… hearing is a sense, listening is a choice, as a leader you don’t have to come up with all of the answers… it’s marrying your vision and goals with what your customers/clients need most and listening to the ideas of your employees to provide the most seamless approach! So, how do you do the Art of Listening?
TRUST is a big word to start with and the foundation your leadership and listening will be built upon. Do your people trust what you say, trust your follow-through, trust that you won’t hurt their career after sharing undesired or unwanted information, do they trust you’re being transparent? It’s amazing how much more your people with do with you, for you, because of you, and forgive about your mistakes when they trust you, the leaders, and the organization. The opposite is true when trust doesn’t exist… in any relationship; it’s amazing how little they may do with you, for you, because of you, and forgive about you when trust is an issue… Be Mindful!
Trust can be enhanced in three ways:
1. Manners – A quote I came up with years ago and live by to this day is “It’s even more important to show humility and manners when your status says you don’t HAVE TO”. A please, thank you, a smile, greeting your people, and email etiquette go a long way! Remember, your manners might be the only positives your people received that day. You have no idea what’s going on in their home life, relationship, their kids, or the rude interaction they had with a stranger that day!
2. Acceptance of feedback – Whether it’s requested or unwanted! For example, some companies send out surveys to gauge where the company is and what the employees think. This is supposed to be anonymous; until the boss becomes upset by the feedback and know wants to know WHO said WHAT… Yes, this really happens in some organizations! Or, someone speaks up in a meeting with an idea, questions, or challenges and is now blackballed from promotions, targeted, or shunned at work… Yes, this really happens in some organizations! Or, a Negative Nick or Nancy at the job (someone who typically complains, gossips, etc.) shares an idea and it’s ignored due to who the person is delivering the message.
I have found some of the best solutions to propel the company forward may come from your clients/customers and your front-line people… even the Negative Nicks and Nancys! It involves you, as a leader, being willing to actively listen to WHAT’s being said and WHY it’s being said… rather than focusing on WHO is saying it and How they’re saying it! We can always go back to address a better way to share information that’s more professional; while absorbing the gems and applying what’s reasonable, doable, and fair into the process of things.
In my former career, I worked in a Mental Health Facility. It was shut down and the company planned to build us a brand-new building! It was an exciting time as my co-workers and I were eager to be in a new building (just for us) and believed we as a staff would have some input on the design… ideas of room placement: where to put classrooms, Behavior Pods, and offices, to allow for an optimum flow for emergency situations. Well… no one ever asked and the building was built. We were all bummed and perhaps could have done a better job of being more assertive. It also would have felt quite exhilarating to be a part of bui8lding something we’d use daily. It was nice to have a new building and we made the layout work, however the layout proved to be somewhat dysfunctional and took some adjusting over the years.
When I started what has now morphed into my business, I was a poor listener. I had my ideas, consulted no one, and rolled out new ideas and expected smiles… well I was wrong! I remember designing a t-shirt with the business name on it and underneath the company name said, of Reading, Pa. During the unveiling, a friend and member said, “Why does it say of Reading, Pa. I don’t live there and what if you want to expand?”. I remember my smile turning into immediate frustration and shutting him down quickly… all the while, knowing he was right, it was a good idea, it would have been best to collaborate first, and the shirt would have been better with less writing on it. A rookie mistake, not to be made again… and this leads us into point number 3!
3. A.F.E. – After Feedback Engagement! – This is of monumental importance. As a leader, how do you respond to your people, your team, and the idea after hearing feedback you don’t enjoy and/or consensus is against you? Perhaps you can go with the idea, collaborate to fine-tune it, or their idea is great but goes against the current vision and budget. My point here is… be mindful to exhibit great personal leadership skills; continuing to smile, greet, engage, support, and uplift your people and your team after hard-to-hear feedback. Because it was “hard-to-hear” doesn’t mean they were wrong and it may prove to be a poor leadership move when sharing ideas becomes a “No-No” within your organization. Remember, leaders build leaders… and that can’t happen without the ever blinking green light to share, fail, and grow!
This is simple, short, and sweet. You want to enhance your leadership and listening? ASK your people their thoughts and don’t penalize them for sharing. Whether, it’s your employees, your employer, your team, your spouse, your kids! Make your statement then ask your question. It may sound like, “I have an idea I’ve been thinking about ______________. I’d like to know what you like about it and what would you fine-tune or change?”. It allows the person to say something good about it first, removes your ego, and invites theirs in. This doesn’t mean every idea will be fulfilled, rather ideas will be listened to…and this leads us into Follow Through!
To ask and not do will tend to ruffle feathers. Therefore, professionally, I like to share the fact one of three things will happen when ideas are shared:
- We go with your idea; as it was so great it blew our socks off!
- We collaborate on the idea because there’s a bigger picture the person may not know about.
- We don’t do the idea because our vision and vision factors are currently directed elsewhere or make the person aware of the bigger picture and challenge them to fit the idea more appropriately into the bigger picture.
The final point of Follow-Through is to DO SOMETHING about the information you received. Whether it’s a positive conversation, applying it, explaining why it’s not the idea’s time, or sharing the idea is outside of your control. Remember, even CEOs have a Board to answer to! I hope you enjoy your new listening skills; as it’s an art form that will enhance not only your Leadership & Work/Life Harmony but also that of your leaders, employees, teams, and organization!
“Some of the best solutions to propel the company forward may come from your clients/customers and your front-line people… even the Negative Nicks and Nancys… Be Mindful!” – Andre Young
Written by: Andre Young
Enhance Leadership and Work/Life Harmony in your Organization, your Leaders, Employees, and Teams with Andre Young’s Speaking Engagements, Evolve & Lead Training Programs (on-site, online, or virtual), and1-on-1 Growth Sessions! www.youevolvingnow.com