There is one capability that you must develop as a leader. This ability, more than any other, will determine your success as a leader. The best news: this trait can be developed by the most experienced or the newest leader. No matter how well you have demonstrated this ability in the past, you can improve this ability in the future.
Note: I did not say that this trait would make you rich, nor did I say it would make you successful in business. I didn’t promise that success = dollars. If you will practice this skill, hone it, sharpen it, master it, and become an expert in its use, you will become a successful leader. Have you guessed what skill I’m referencing?
There are so many important, maybe even critical, skills that a leader must exhibit: transparency, trust, empathy, courage, discipline, humility, intensity, drive, tenacity, emotional intelligence, service, etc… In many ways, it’s impossible to pick one. There’s significant interplay with these skills that shape a leader. As you consider some of these traits, you might even find yourself a little envious knowing that one or more are lacking in your repertoire.
When you see others on the list you’re like, “Man, I got that! That’s a strength for me.” Even in the areas where I’m confident that it’s a strength, I’m not foolish enough to think I can’t improve. For the leader, every single day is an opportunity to learn. So make your own list. What’s coming to the top when you think about a single characteristic that more than other will determine success as a leader. What did you come up with?
In my estimation, unequivocally, the answer to this question is your ability to listen. You will be a standout, a raving success in life, when you do this one thing well. And it’s not limited to what you do from 9to5 every day. You can use this skill at home, at the office, in your volunteer work, with your children, with your in-laws, with your spouse, and don’t forget Lassie. “Bark! Bark-bark! Bark!” “What is it, Lassie?” “Bark! Bark-bark-bark! Bark-bark!” “What, Timmy’s fallen in the well?” Just FYI – 571 episodes, Timmy never fell in the well. But that line is persistent, isn’t it!
Is there another ability that can pay off as handsomely as listening? Why do so many of us do it so poorly? So I was listening to Rich Litvin recently on a presentation he did for WBECS. WBECS is the World Business Executive Coach Summit where more than 45 speakers share perspective on effective coaching. I have never heard Rich speak before. Rich is a coach to coaches and he charges A LOT of money for his services. And his clients? They make A LOT of money implementing his advice.
So Rich was speaking about the Deep Coaching method that he developed and uses. He shared what he refers to as the Five Elements of Deep Listening. Who better to instruct us on listening well than someone who gets paid to listen well!
I’ve shared this before, and it’s particularly relevant right here. There are few things more offensive and hurtful than baring your soul to someone who can barely maintain eye contact. Can I tell you what happens when I interact with that person in the future? I’m far more guarded in what I reveal or discuss. The level of transparency diminishes. I’m not sure which is worse: being derided or mocked for a genuinely understood position or a listener being completely distracted while pretending to hear you talk about anything of significance!
If you want to be present, you might have to try radical things like leaving your cell phone at your desk when doing a one-on-one with a team member. Or how about this? Turn off the TV when your spouse is talking to you about a behavioral issue with one of your children. Or when a child comes and says “Daddy, I have something to show you.” you don’t take the newspaper with you.
If you are being present, then you are purposeful in focusing on their every word. When scaling your ability here, Rich says the top end of the scale is when you can even sense a shift in their breathing! Are you that present in your conversations? If you are, there’s no need to leave your phone at your desk.
Another game changer. Have you ever had a one-sided conversation? When you are listening deeply, that’s exactly what you want – you want them to do all the talking and you say as little as possible. If you talk more than you listen, be aware of your need for improvement. I don’t feel like I talk all of the time. At the same time, my coworkers think I talk a lot and they will razz me about it. So, I have to watch out for this and be aware of the potential issue. Ask a question and be quiet.
When they ask “what do you think” it’s really important to consider whether the deep listening process has been completed before you chime in. It’s better to deflect and ask what they think when you know deep listening hasn’t run its course.
There are no shortcuts to this one. When you develop trust has over time, the one talking will be confident that they can share their deepest thoughts, fears, passions, desires without judgment. This is a good time to ask yourself a question that Carey Nieuwhof uses which we talked about in Episode 65 “What’s it like to be on the other side of me? Do I make people feel safe?”
Rich points out a common fallacy, a statement posed as a question and it goes like this: “Here’s what I think, how about you?” This isn’t authentic curiosity. It doesn’t matter what you think. You are listening to the other person tell you what THEY think. You can dive deep on this one using Michael Bungay Stanier’s AWE method. AWE stands for the simple phrase “and what else”. It’s easy to keep the other person talking by simply asking “and what else.”
Finally, what does it mean to provoke the person talking? Think of this as asking questions that will challenge thinking. It might be questions like:
- What are you tolerating?
- What do you want?
- What would make this an extraordinary conversation?
So, use these questions to provoke the person to dig deeper into things they don’t normally talk about.
Which one of the five elements of deep listening will you work on this week? Try them out and see if they don’t instantly raise your credibility as an effective leader.
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Now, go lead like someone you would want to follow!