And, now for something completely different—from my last two posts. This post is going to focus on leadership and getting things done. I begin the post by acknowledging that I have not always followed best practices in this regard, but I am learning.
In previous posts on leadership I have concentrated on things like vision and being able to communicate in a clear manner that motivates, inspires and provides clear direction. In this post, I am going to take a very different tack. I am going to talk about listening, having empathy and how important that is to leadership and getting things done.
Listening is important for several reasons:
- You learn things that you really need to know. If you don’t listen, you will be under-informed, and this can result in bad outcomes;
- Listening allows you to understand the people you are working with. And, this helps you lead whether you are doing so from out in front of, or even (and more importantly) from within the pack. As a consultant, I found it challenging to both lead and also be a (paid) service provider, because you are never in charge as a consultant, but you are expected to lead. Listen ensures that you understand what you client needs (as opposed to wants) and help them to get there; and
- Listening demonstrates that you are willing to consider other people’s points of view and makes it easier for them to listen to you. This is another circumstance where it doesn’t matter if you are leading from out front or as a member of the pack, things work better, especially if there are strong disagreements that need to be resolved, if participants are listening to each other.
Now that I (hopefully) have you possibly thinking that listening isn’t a bad idea, let’s talk about the different degrees of listening:
- Not so patently waiting for the other person to stop yapping so that you can tell them how it really is. There is no engagement here and the likelihood of any kind of return on your “effort” is slight at best;
- Listening to what they say, but spending most of your thought cycles on how to respond. This type of listening isn’t much more productive than the first type, except your correspondent is likely to understand that you have actually heard what they had to say, i.e. the response is reactive to the details of what they have said;
- Listening and engaging (with questions) that help you understand what they are saying. This is often called active listening. It helps start a conversation where both parties feel heard and can be the start of something productive;
- Taking degree 3 (directly above) to another level where you allow yourself to consider the other person’s point of view as something that you might adopt or move toward. This doesn’t mean that you will, but you are putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and that is a strong foundation for meaningful discussion. This are the potentially most productive kind of exchange, especially if both parties are following this approach to the conversation. In this case, minds can be changed, and even if they aren’t compromises can be found.
OK, so now you ask, but why am I even interested in doing any of this listening. I would argue that it is most valuable in situations where you are expecting a long-term relationship. And, even when you aren’t expecting an ongoing relationship, it might result in positive reputational implications that would enhance your ability to make things happen when being trusted as a fair player who thinks multidimensionally (over time, about the people you are dealing with, about the bigger picture) counts.
In a lot of ways, it depends whether you take a relationship view of how you interact with other or a transactional view. People who take a relationship view of their interactions with others tend to treat the people they transact business with more like partners than anonymous players and takes a longer view where the idea is: 1) for everyone to win, and 2) that the current transaction is just one step on the way to a longer-term win for everyone. While those who tend to be transactional in their style, see each transaction as a zero-sum game, i.e. someone loses and someone wins.
My view is that business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game and that, in fact, the pie can get bigger and all players are better off if they work together to maximize the take for all players. Conversely, people who take a transactional view of the world, make the pie smaller because people they do business with, and lose, (this time) are likely to want to win next time. Further, there are business partners (in this case clients) that, because of their transactional view of the world, find it difficult to find quality partners to do business with.
I remember, in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s a firm that I worked for doing an assessment of clients and deciding that there was a class of clients that cost more to service than the revenue they generated justified. These were, in other ways (size, name, etc.), very attractive clients. After some discussions with the clients that fell into this class, explaining our need to either renegotiate or end the relationships, some remained clients and others didn’t. The firm I worked for had a healthier (more profitable, and having the resources to focus on better business opportunities) business as a result. The clients who remained understood the value that my firm provided and those that didn’t found other service providers who were willing to work for something less than they were likely worth.
Over the course of my career, I have worked both transactionally and relationally—and only in retrospect have I discerned the difference. I would say without a doubt, those business arrangements that were based on strong relationships were healthier greater impactful, more productive and profitable for all involved. So I ask you to look around, and see if you can see examples of both of these kinds of arrangements, personal, business and political and tell me if you can see the wisdom of listening and building relationship as a better way to get things done.
Copyright 2017 Howard Niden
— you can find this (days earlier) and other posts at www.niden.com