Read a book on leadership; read any ten books on leadership… You will likely find this in each one. A leader has to be a listener, a very good listener.
If you read them carefully, you will sense that people are starved for leaders who will listen to them. People simply do not feel listened to!
(Side comment: overall, women really are better at listening than men; and, women are underrepresented in top circles of leadership; and, people complain that their leaders do not listen to them. Maybe more women in top circles of leadership could go a long way in lowering such complaints!).
So, if all of these books talk about listening as a needed leadership skill, then maybe leaders should work a little harder at developing their listening skills. (Here’s a good article by Greg Anderson, Listen is an Action Verb, to help you think about some of those specific skills).
But, before you show off those skills, here’s the first step – leaders have to put themselves into a position where they can listen. You know – be physically present, actually seek the comments and suggestions and questions and complaints of the folks who wish they were listened to.
So, here’s a thought. Maybe your organization needs a “big block of cheese day.” With your leader, and your circle of leaders (your leadership team), just sitting and listening for the day to anyone and everyone who has something to say.
If you don’t know about the “big block of cheese day,” it was a wonderful episode (actually, 2 episodes) from the West Wing television show. Resurrecting an old practice from the Andrew Jackson days, the White House would open its doors, offering a slice of cheese to any and all comers, and “forcing” their top leadership team members to listen to ideas from the people. These are great episodes. And, it might not be a bad idea for all public servants.
(Recently, President Obama’s administration had a “Virtual Block of Cheese Day.” The purpose: to listen. To listen to people who do not feel listened to).
What if your company or organization did this a couple of times a year? What if your leadership team really did listen to people who work for the company/organization, but never feel listened to?
This is kind of the premise behind the television show The Undercover Boss. In each episode, the boss goes into intense listening mode, and always learns important things that he/she would not have learned any other way.
What could come from this?
First, people would begin to feel listened to.
Second, you might get some pretty good ideas. And some solutions to problems – solutions that you had not thought of.
Third, you might develop a reputation of being an organization that listens to its people well.
Will it work? I don’t know. But, I think it might be worth a try.
Here’s what I do know. I’ve been reading leadership books for quite a few years now. The books seem to be in full agreement — people don’t feel listened to. I don’t see much progress being made in the listening department. Maybe this idea is worth a try.
You got a better idea?