In The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World, Peter Schwartz makes the following observation:
“The most remarkable people understand that their ability to be remarkable depends on their skill at listening to others.”
Schwartz wrote those words almost 25 years ago, but the truth in his observation has not changed. “Listening” is a doorway to remarkability.
Surely, some leaders achieve “success” by luck, others by pretense, and still others through less-than-ethical means. But, ask any leader of substance to name a list of key factors that contributed to his or her success, and active listening will almost always be in the mix.
I would argue that culturally, we are facing a listening crisis. Many seem to prefer talking over listening; and while talking is an effective aspect in an interpersonal communication cycle, to talk much and listen little may make remarkability an ever-elusive reality.
So, how can leaders graduate from ordinary to remarkable? Remind employees that listening is an action verb.
Many have forgotten that listening involves effort. Although it is possible to listen passively (like having music playing in the background while working), remarkable leaders never treat those within their organizations as “background noise.” When you have an opportunity to listen to another human being:
- Make and maintain eye contact.
- Avoid changing the subject.
- Avoid “one up-manship” (for example, someone tells you about their rough morning and you reply, “You think you’ve had a bad day!”)
- Avoid giving advice before you have the complete picture.
- Avoid checking your watch, phone, tablet, etc.
- Remain civil in all conversations.
- Plan for listening. Do not begin a conversation if you need to be somewhere else in ten minutes. Instead, say, “I truly want to hear what you have to say. I have an appointment shortly, so can we schedule a meeting for later today?”
- Listen to ALL your employees. If you only listen to a select few, you may find that the only people you are listening to are the people who tell you what you want to hear.
Obviously, we could go on and on with a “listening tips list,” but let me add a final criteria that is often overlooked. Since listen is an action verb, that means we as human beings can increase our listening capacity. As with any action, the more you practice, the more natural the action becomes. So, practice!
The more you listen to others, the more they will be willing to listen to you. In other words, you’re just an action verb away from being a remarkable leader.