Our Blog

Ouch…Remembering the Importance of Listening to Learn so that We Can Lead

I was having a conversation the other day with someone who was struggling to communicate with their supervisor. She was trying to share a concern about a roadblock to productivity. When I asked how the conversation went, she said “it’s hard because she just does not want to hear that bandwidth is an issue, so we never get to a problem-solving stage.” At first, I thought, “Well, your supervisor needs to be a better listener!” Funny how those judging from the sideline's thoughts can bring back those moments of deja vu and eating crow back to you as a leader. 

I remember for several years an employee I valued very much would come to me about wanting to outsource a service because it would be more efficient. I truly had good intentions for this employee, and I was afraid if we outsourced the work, her position would become obsolete, and I did not want to lose her as an employee. So, for several years, we would have this conversation. Looking back, I know it took a lot of courage for her to keep coming to me with this suggestion knowing I would “not want to hear about outsourcing”. Ironically, I thought I was listening. But what I was doing was protecting without asking. I was listening from the heart and not listening as a leader to learn. I also was not empowering her with the skills to present informative requests so that we both stretched our thinking beyond the words we continued to repeat to each other…both with really good intentions, but without effectiveness. 

What I have since learned from watching the progression of this request from that valued employee is that I was wrong. Outsourcing did not eliminate a position. It did indeed maintain the employee role and made the services more efficient. Had I listened to the proposal and concerns and questioned to learn, I would have made a better decision as a leader. As leaders, it is important that we genuinely listen to concerns/ideas from our staff with an intent to learn and be open to asking, researching, and revisiting. We also need to respond with our questions/concerns and empower our staff to provide information back to us so we can productively reach the problem-solving stage. As leaders, we need to internally question our responses to repeated professional requests so that we understand what we are bringing to the conversation that may limit our potential to lead. To create this type of environment, we also need to support our staff with professional communication skills that build in them the knowledge and skills to effectively share concerns, ideas, and provide appropriate information to engage in constructive dialogue. We often think of leaders by the words they share, but the ability to just be quiet and listen is sometimes the best mark of a true leader. 

By Cathy Jones Park