Leadership listening. Why is it important? Would you like to learn how to improve it?
Not long ago, I was discussing organizational change with a business connection of mine. His organization was undergoing a major customer service improvement initiative. As for the effective execution of this initiative, he suggested it would transform the way they do business and enhance their customer experience. Ultimately, the end goal of this initiative is for all customers to truly be “wowed” by exceptional customer service.
For more on exceptional customer service, take a look at this post.
Then, he went on to say that being a part of this type of comprehensive organizational planning with the CEO and Senior Management Team involves intensive research, brainstorming, and discussion to create and execute an effective organizational strategy.
But it also involves, or at least should involve, leadership listening.
The Importance of Leadership Listening
With many great minds in the room, and with many different ideas and perspectives on what will create success, everyone around the boardroom table needed to be given a chance to be heard and provide input.
The CEO in this situation played the role of the facilitator. They were listening to all suggestions, providing feedback, and eventually creating a structured action plan going forward. My former classmate indicated that it was only through effective leadership listening that all stakeholder suggestions were heard and recognized by their team members.
So, use this story as a clear reminder for any business and leader of the importance of “listening” in planning, communicating, facilitating and leading important projects and members of your team.
Quick Tips to Enhance Leadership Listening
Now, as for enhancing this type of listening in your own business? We’re about to tell you how! Below are five quick tips to encourage innovation through effective listening that you can apply in your business:
1) Create a meaningful connection
In the above example, the CEO was able to relate to his team members by not doing all of the talking. He would stop, make eye contact, and be fully engaged in each team member’s presentation. This builds meaningful and rewarding connections with your team members.
Leaders have to put their preconceived notions aside and listen to their team. The team needs to feel valued and that their opinions and suggestions matter. They are typically closer to front-line activities and feedback so they can speak from true experience. But this will only occur if they feel that the leader cares and wants to hear. And listen.
For more on connections, look at this post next: Communication for Everyone – How to Connect with External and Internal Customers
2) Encourage confidence building
Does each member around your boardroom table have the time to contribute their thoughts on a particular topic? Combat team members’ uncertainty by asking for their thoughts and attending to their ideas. Otherwise, leadership needs to ask themselves, why are they here at the table?
It is ideal to include several employee levels, depending on the meeting topic. Front-line employees can offer very first-hand and candid feedback, and aspiring leaders can gain valuable exposure to boardroom meetings and important discussions.
In this day and age of high turnover and challenging recruitment, building confidence in employees at all levels is a smart strategy.
3) Learn from their messages
Talk show host Larry King once said, “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So, if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.” Now, ask yourself: how can your team’s ideas contribute and add value to your current way of thinking about a challenge or opportunity?
How do you feel you listen, as a leader? Are you thinking of a defensive response while receiving feedback? Are you thinking to yourself that message must be an exception? Or do you listen, absorb, and ask more questions that are not defensive?
Once you listen and absorb, rephrase what you have heard to ensure correct understanding. Continue asking for a solution, if necessary, and ideally engage the employee who offered the message to participate. In a business environment, there is not likely a better way to involve an employee in an area that requires change.
4) Practice daily
Take the time at the end of the day to reflect on the things that you have heard that day and how you can improve your leadership through listening in future situations.
Take notes, and study your notes. Ensure a timeline is put on anything you have heard that requires action. There is nothing more demotivating to your employees than a leader who listens (or appears to) but does not take action.
Always involve the employee or employees who were brave enough to offer feedback. That is an engaging contribution to company culture. Employees at all levels love to know they can make a difference.
5) Create an Action Plan
Effective listening will encourage an abundance of fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Create a plan to put some of these into action and show your team you are listening.
As a leader, you cannot act on all the suggestions and ideas offered. Employee committees can help. Although too many committees can create challenges, a limited number of committees with very specific time frames and action plans can move initiatives forward, sometimes better than a leadership team!
As a leader, create the BIG list and involve your team in creating the recommendations. Then listen, consider, and act accordingly. If recommendations are not being considered, ensure the “WHY” explanation is offered. It creates an opportunity for your team to understand the bigger picture.
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With one unified model of leadership—vision, alignment, and execution—it focuses on helping leaders understand their own leadership styles and how their tendencies influence their effectiveness in specific leadership situations.
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