Leaderly Listening                                                              

Successful leaders say they spend 50% or more of their time listening. Noted leadership thinkers, such as Peter Drucker, consider
it a core leadership skill. How much time do you spend listening to the views of others - employees, peers, customers, other
stakeholders?  And how effective are you at it? Although listening is considered a “soft skill” it produces hard results in relationship
building.   

The articles address why listening is critical for effective leadership, listening skills every leader should practice, the art of active
listening, and the barriers to effective listening.  Also provided is a link to an on-line listening assessment.  

Listening as a Core Leadership Skill

Listening is critical for leadership success because it enables effective relationships. Research reveals that listening:
  •  Demonstrates respect for others and their ideas,
  •  Fosters reciprocal listening,
  •  Engenders trust,
  •  Fosters better relationships with employees,
  •  Promotes employee autonomy and creativity, and
  •  Manages the expectations of others.
It’s no wonder that studies in diverse organizations found a direct link between listening and leadership effectiveness.  

During times of change (and leadership is all about effecting change) listening is even more important.  According to the Center for
Creative Leadership the more stress an organization is facing, the more important it is for its leaders to demonstrate soft skills such
as listening to and empathizing with employees who are facing workplace upheaval.

Listening – Key to Successful Executive Assimilation

A report in Fortune Magazine revealed that approximately 40% of senior leaders fail in their jobs within the first 12-18 months.  A
prime cause is the failure to establish effective working relationships.

In the Fast Company article, It’s About Time, Charles O. Rossotti, Commissioner of the IRS, said that he has found that the best
use of his time at the IRS is to listen. He stated, "Too often, people who enter the top echelons of organizations think that they’re
supposed to know everything.  They think that they’ve been hired to provide an answer to every question.  In fact people
sometimes just want you to listen." Rossotti shared that before being sworn into office, he spent six months meeting IRS
employees throughout the country.  He believes that this enabled him to build the trust required to carry out his mission to overhaul
the tax system.  

Lou Gerstner, who led IBM’s revival, provided a similar account of his first month at IBM.  In his book, "Who Says Elephants
Can't Dance, " Gerstner said before establishing his priorities for IBM’s future, "For the first month, I listened, and I tried very hard
not to draw conclusions."

To help leaders effectively assimilate into a new environment, many companies provide an Executive Assimilation Process. The
process is designed to help executives establish solid working relationships with key internal and external stakeholders. It does so
by providing opportunities for listening through events such as individual interviews, focus groups, and town hall meetings.  In
organizations without an established process, an executive coach can be used to help leaders develop one tailored to their specific
needs.

It is never too early to listen! Leaders who introduce themselves as a listener create the basis for successful work planning and
problem solving.  

3 Skills to Practice for Effective Listening

Professional speaker and speech coach, Joan Lloyd, encourages leaders to practice three fundamentals skills of effective listening:
paraphrasing, listening with empathy, and summarizing.

Paraphrasing is a skill that good communicators use to:
  •  Draw out speakers and make them feel heard and understood,
  •  Neutralize a loaded attack, and
  •  Understand the meaning behind words.
It simply is repeating what you’ve heard but in your own words. Here’s an example:

    An employee says, “Mark never carries his weight and he gets away with murder!”
    A paraphrased response is: “You think Mark is getting away with poor performance and you’re feeling like you’re doing
    more than your share of the work.”

Paraphrasing forces the listener to slow down and hear what the speaker is saying.  It gives both the listener and the speaker the
assurance that the intended thought and feelings are conveyed.
Listening with empathy entails listening for content as well as feelings.  Lloyd provides this example.  

    Sally, an employee says to her manager, “I’m afraid to make client presentations” an empathetic response would be, “I
    understand what you mean.  Presentations can feel a little intimidating, since there is so much at stake.”  

    Sally will acknowledge whether or not her manager correctly identified her feelings. Either way she will feel heard and
    valued. Then the manager can provide Sally with advice and encouragement.

Summarizing is very useful in meetings and involves listening on two tracts: the content and structure of the meeting. For example,

    “We’ve heard from everyone on this issue except Janet and Tom. Before we decide, let’s hear from them.”  

Facilitators use this technique to ensure meetings are productive for everyone involved.  Great leaders generally are good facilitators
because they are good listeners.

If paraphrasing, listening with empathy and summarizing are not part of your listening skill set begin to practice them.  Initially you
may feel awkward, that’s natural and to be expected.  In time you’ll see that the benefits are worth the effort.  

Active Listening – It’s more than being “All Ears”

In a scene from the movie, Rush Hour, actor/comedian Chris Tucker yells at his sidekick, Jackie Chan, “DO YOU UNDERSTAND
THE WORDS COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH!”  In the scene Chris was speaking to Jackie, who merely stared at him offering
no active signs that he had heard or understood Chris.  

Good leaders recognize the need to be active listeners. Active listening techniques are particularly useful for counseling and conflict
resolution. According to, "The Trusted Advisor," active listeners:
  •   Probe for clarification
  •   Ask, “How do you feel about that?”
  •   Keep the speaker talking (“What else have you considered?”)
  •   Request more detail that helps them understand
  •   Ask you how you think they might be of help
  •   Ask what you’ve thought of before telling you what they’ve thought of
  •   Nod their head or give a slight smile to show interest.

Active listening is vital to gaining the trust, support and confidence of others. It is more than just rote action.  It demonstrates a
genuine desire to understand and requires  discipline, interest, and concentration. Leaders can differentiate themselves from mere
managers by making a conscious effort to improve their active listening skills.

Listening Filters

The thoughts and ideas we bring into a conversation filter what we hear. It happens naturally and usually subconsciously.  
However, these “listening filters” are barriers to good communication. Listed below are 11 common filters.
  1. Beliefs
  2. Interests
  3. Attitudes
  4. Values
  5. Expectations
  6. Current mood
  7. Past and future images
  8. Prejudices
  9. Memories
  10. Past experiences
  11. Assumptions

Leaders who recognize their own listening filters are better able to follow Stephen Covey’s advice, “Seek first to understand, then
to be understood."

Listening Assessment

To quickly assess your listening competency take the self-assessment at: http://www.highgain.com/SELF/index.php3
It takes about 4 minutes and the results are provided immediately.  

If you scored lower than desired ask coworkers for feedback regarding your listening practices.  (Review the guidelines for
soliciting feedback in the July 2002 edition.)  Also, you may use the assessment as a 360o evaluation. Ask coworkers to complete
it, using you as the subject, and to give you a copy of the results. Finally, consider obtaining an executive coach to help you
improve your listening skills.   
Workplace Wisdom