Listening – The Leadership Skill That Makes The Difference

It continues to amaze me how a leader can implode business performance by choosing not to listen effectively.  When a leader is myopically focused on achieving their personal objectives and vision they lean heavily on the management skill of “Telling” and believe that the team will just adopt and adapt.

Throughout my career I have witnessed the impact that new CEO’s and presidents have when leading well established teams.  The defining difference between those that were highly successful and those that failed was their ability to listen effectively.

Those leaders were mindful of the zone they chose to listen in.
There are four distinctive listening zones.

Zone 1:   Listening to be Polite
Remember Charlie Brown and the teacher… Blah, blah, blah… When you are in this zone you are not listening at all.  You can not repeat what the person has said and have clearly demonstrated to your audience that you do not value them. You have judged them as not important. This zone quickly disenfranchises the team.

Zone 2:   Listening to be Right   
You are listening with missiles in this zone.  Emotions are high and you are listening for trigger words.  You actively build your responses to the other party’s statements rather than listen to gain insights.

Zone 3:  Listening for Issues    
In this zone you are actively listening but have filters on your ears.  This zone is dangerous because you choose to listen to the information that aligns with your visions, values, business plan, etc. but eliminate critical information that might impact success.

Zone 4:  Listening to Understand
This is the most impactful zone. It takes a high level of commitment and energy.  This requires you to be completely focused on the message and the messenger.  You will know that you are listening at this level if you are asking clarifying questions and seeking to understand the other party’s perspective.  This level of listening demonstrates empathy.

The successful CEO’s and Presidents all demonstrated a strong ability to “Listen to Understand”.  They created opportunities to engage with employees.  They asked powerful questions and listened attentively to the responses.  They acknowledge differences of opinion and shared their perspective.  By “Listening to Understand” these leaders built trust and delivered bottom line results for their organizations.

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