Several years ago, I was working with a leader who moved into a new role. I was invited to attend the dinner where he would meet his new team for the first time. It was one of those three-hour meals with way too many forks. Throughout the dinner, I was amazed at the way the new leader used that opportunity. While I didn’t time him, I’m pretty sure he talked for at least two and a half of those hours. His team learned his life story, leadership philosophy, professional successes, and every detail of his hike through a rainforest.
At the end of the dinner, he pulled me aside and asked, “How do you think it went?” I asked him what new information he learned about his team that he didn’t know before dinner. He responded that his objective was to let them get to know him. This included learning his leadership style so they could be more productive in their new environment under his leadership. I asked how he knew what his leadership style needed to be if he knew nothing about the people he was leading. He had squandered an opportunity to learn, build trust, and understand the things that would help him lead. Consequently, he was gone in less than 18 months.
More than words
Too many leaders focus on the message they want to deliver, with no regard to what they need to learn. Rarely do I encounter a leader who truly understands how to listen to their people. Their employees ultimately determine the success or failure of the business, as well as their own success as a leader. When I use the word “listen”, I don’t just mean hearing the words. Successful leaders that I’ve been around do more than hear the words. They listen for the mindset and the motivation of the person delivering the words. It’s not just about what people say, it’s about why they say it and what’s causing them to say it. Learning how to listen gives leaders the opportunity to understand what their people think, feel, believe, and want.
When leaders meet with employees, it’s a precious opportunity to find new ways to solve problems, shift their own perspective with new information, and hear new ideas that could drive business growth. If you want to become a leader who consistently gets flooded with new ideas, new solutions, new ways to tackle problems, then become a leader who listens. The people you lead will soon learn that you want their ideas and their input. As a result, you will get more feedback and have a more satisfied and fulfilled team in the process.
In order to learn more about the team you lead, ask good questions and then intently listen. If you ask good questions and help people explore their own thoughts, they will tell you how to be the leader they need to help them reach their potential. They will give you every idea they have on the best ways to run the practice. Additionally, they may even tell you about the mistakes you are getting ready to make.
Great leaders understand they don’t need to have all of the answers. They just have to know where to find them. A leader’s job is to take all of the available information and use it to create growth, rather than arrive on the scene with all the answers to make things happen. More importantly, leaders who listen well will begin to understand the people in their practice and what they care about. That will unlock the secrets to getting the team fully engaged, keeping them excited about showing up, and fulfilled when they leave. When you find a thriving practice, there’s a leader who learned to listen.