12 July 2007

Leadership and listening

A log by Michael Wagner gave me the inspiration, that listening is the most important competency a leader can have. A competency followed only by the competency to ask questions based on what you hear. Michael Wagner called it: “Go in stupid, come out with a sale.”

Asking questions is probably one of the most difficult competencies a leader can develop. Everything in his surroundings works against him developing it or if once developed keeping it up to speed.

Listening is one of the most difficult competencies, because it asks from us to take our own thoughts and hold them to the light of our own scrutiny. Really listening means not listening to your own thought, ideas, believes and expectations, but listening to the other. For a leader this is almost impossible, because the own thoughts, expectations and ideas form the basis for their successes. And success strengthens the behavior through which it is created together with the thoughts, ideas and expectations.

So you have learned to be a leader that listens to others. Your own thoughts ko not hinder your attention. But what now? Of what use is the competency to listen to others, without your own internal commentary? Even if those internal thoughts were judgments, solutions or expectations. Maybe its an idea to translate what your heard into questions. Questions that give the other the chance to clarify what he thinks, expects, believes or wants.

And the moment you start asking questions, a leader will face a new obstacle. Because most people do not go to a leader to get listened to, they want their leader tot talk to them. Most people would prefer not to talk when their leader is near, but would want to listen to what their leader has to say. And that is exactly what you can see happening with leaders, they become talkers the longer they are leaders. Or they started out as talkers and their behavior became strengthened, because others will only listen when they are around. This however means, that as a leader you know little about what motivates others. So it is important for a leader to be able to listen and ask questions and preferably in the reverse order. Because asking questions will start the other talking after which you can start listening.

But instead of expecting our leaders to be listeners, we expect them to be talkers. They need to make us feel comfortable with their stories. They must motivate us with their ideas. They must comfort us with their thoughts. The must cheer us up with their expectations. But listening is not what we expect of them. It would be nice, but that is not what they are there for.

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