The "must-have" skill for every leader
The "must-have" skill for every leader
Listening is not a warm-and-fuzzy competence: it’s an essential skill-set that yields significant results.
Most inventories of desirable leadership characteristics will place "good listener" near the top. Good listening helps leaders to understand, empathize, and engage their team members and employees. Good listening builds rapport and trust; it invariably improves the relationship. Listening is not a warm-and-fuzzy competence: it’s an essential skill-set that yields significant results.
Listening as an Ally™ Case Study
A large Petrochemicals company was engaged in a Six Sigma quality effort to improve efficiencies and catalyze innovation. The senior managers of two plant sites - located within twenty miles of each other - decided to merge the plant management teams and coordinate production across sites. The decision was supported by senior managers at both sites, particularly in light of the impending retirements of five of the twelve managers, including one of the plant managers. Bob G. became the plant manager of the combined site structure.
The change would require a shift in several management assignments, as well as the direct reporting structure at the mid-management and supervision levels. Bob had worked tirelessly over the previous three months to guide the decision-making process. While the change guaranteed no job losses at either site (except for normal attrition), many supervisors and line personnel were fearful about the change. Through the grapevine, Bob heard a few stories about grumbling
Bob took the stories personally. At a day-long meeting of supervisors and mid-managers, he challenged all attendees to speak to him directly about their concerns and stop fueling the discontent with "rumors and speculation." One supervisor, Carl, raised his hand and asked: "How will the reorganization affect specific job assignments?"
Bob snapped back: "I don’t have all the answers! Do you guys expect me to handle everything?"
Carl responded calmly: "Bob, I know you're trying to make this work for all of us. I don’t expect you to have all the answers; I just want to know what you're thinking."
Bob was startled by Carl's clear and reasonable statement. He felt embarrassed for jumping to conclusions. Bob realized he had been "listening as an adversary" — believing his mid-managers were ganging up on him, and lashing out based in reaction to an untested belief. In fact, he really didn’t know what people were thinking.
At that strategic moment, Bob made a conscious choice. Bob chose to acknowledge his misstep and to listen as an ally. Bob said: "I regret my reaction to your question, Carl. Your question is perfectly reasonable. I also appreciate your mentioning my effort to make this work for everyone. But you know, I'm realizing I can't do that well without hearing your questions and concerns. If I don’t have the answers, we can work together to figure things out. How does that sound?"
A noticeable ease of tension occurred throughout the room. With help from one of the supervisors, Bob facilitated a brainstorming session of questions and concerns, asking questions along the way to clarify and validate specific items. Bob felt the load of responsibility release from his shoulders. Listening with the intention to really understand made it so much easier for him than listening with the intention to defend or control.
I was at Bob's meeting that day. Toward the end of the session, before action planning and the meeting evaluation, Bob asked me for my observations. I commented on the shift that occurred earlier in the meeting and acknowledged everyone for listening as an ally. I asked the group and Bob if I they might be interested in doing a twenty-minute exercise to prepare them for making next-step commitments. They agreed. I then facilitated the "repetitive response" exercise using the question: "What do you feel or think about the meeting today?"
The impact on the group was profound. In the meeting evaluation, participants commented that the exercise helped:
• Deepen their appreciation of their own and others' experience of the change effort,
• Generate new ideas for implementing the reorganization,
• Remind them of their own responsibility in being compassionate leaders in their own functional areas.
Download the entire chapter, including a practical activity that facilitates Listening as An Ally.
Published on 09/21/07 09:36 AM