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Strategic Management Consulting

Leading by listening

Jonathan  Krause
Jonathan Krause Published on August 20, 2022

In an unpopular opinion, being an effective leader means serving others first. Leadership is not about getting others to follow your orders, although many individuals in leadership would disagree. I would posit that those individuals that ascribe to the command and control, autocratic style of leadership; probably have issues with engagement, retention, and performance within their organizations. This, in part, would help us better understand "The Great Realization" that is leading to "The Great Resignation." Highly skilled professionals are never hard-pressed for opportunities, yet many leaders think there is a monopoly on loyalty.

It's not their fault, many of these individuals are operating under the same assumptions that helped them get to their current place in the org chart, but as times have changed, the need to adjust and adapt to a new leadership style has changed as well. However, the willingness and failure to adjust or alter their leadership style are causing many executives to experience these growing pains in real-time. What makes it worse is the lack of willingness to engage stakeholders in meaningful dialogue in the past, which makes it highly unlikely that even if these stakeholders stay, they will be willing to engage in a productive conversation; the primary reason is a lack of trust.

Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve the problems of today with the level of thinking that created them." Instead of meeting others where they are, many leaders attempt to pull others toward their level of understanding. "However, if you use it with the sole intent of trying to get your way and make other people see your side, you won't be tapping into its full power" of the organization, and "if you truly want to solve problems and change situations for the better, you have to go beyond using the model with others. You have to be willing to apply it yourself." (Mcleod, 2010) This is where the service part comes in; leverage your role as a leader to communicate the vision, understand the team's functions in the big picture, and help them connect the dots.

If you want to be a more effective leader, become an expert listener. Active and reflective listening is the easiest and most effective way to build healthy and strong relationships. Using those skills to ask open-ended questions will let people know you are taking a genuine interest in understanding them better. What does this look like? Making statements like "did I hear you correctly?" "It sounds like you prefer working collaboratively, is that correct?" Framing the dialogue in the words of the other individual(s) gives more context to any discussion, lets them know they have been heard and gives us a better understanding of how to process the conversation.

The challenge is to start with a genuine interest in hearing someone else's thoughts. It can't be a "witch hunt" or a "gotcha game"; if so, there is no established level of trust and respect in the relationship. Without that, it will be difficult to accomplish anything of productive value; even if it works initially, it is not sustainable. The more we can connect with others in ways that foster trust and respect, the easier it will be to have challenging conversations that are sometimes required to solve complex problems. By becoming an expert listeners, we can empower others to share more openly and candidly their thoughts and feelings about the matter. 

McLeod, Lisa Earle. The Triangle of Truth. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

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