Do They Hear What You Hear?

He wants to be promoted, but something’s missing. You feel it, your boss feels it, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. He’s completed all the action plans, and has done everything you’ve asked. Look more deeply, does he hear what you hear?

“Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The leap to the next level requires a keen sense of hearing. It’s an acquired skill, hard to explain in your development program. HR knows it too, but it’s unlikely they’d let you include it in the job description.

What They Must Hear

The Look in Their Eyes – Strong leaders commit to the moment. They can’t be searching for words or remembering the talk track. And they REALLY can’t get stuck on the script. Teach your growing leaders to watch the room and the look in their eyes. If the crew’s not tracking, it’s time to regroup. Teach them to search deeper. Help them change their approach ( not their values). Look for alternative doors to open similar possibilities.

Political Undertones – Great hearing starts long before the talking begins. Assign hearing homework. Help them assess the landscape and positions, BEFORE they plan their presentation.

Bigger Context – It’s hard to speak like an executive when you don’t have a clue. Give them enough insights to present an integrated view.

Meaning in Data – Teach interpretation not regurgitation. Leaders must pull meaning and implications for results. If there’s a gap, or a trend be sure they can explain it. Not tap dancing… thoughtful analysis and understanding. Help them show up as the expert.

The Unsaid – Every now and then your growing leader will step into an unexpected landmine. If the entire room reacts like they’re in a Harry Potter movie, where someone just named “the one who can’t be named.” Teach them to stop, take it off-line, and understand more before continuing.

Posted in Communication and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of several books: Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates (Harper Collins Summer 2020), Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Great topic. One of my favorite professors would quote a proverb which said, “with all thy getting get understanding.” It’s crucial that you understand your audience and their expectations. One suggestion is to preview presentations one on one with key people in advance. This allows them to ask questions and digest the information in private. Their concerns can be addressed and tweaks can be made prior to the actual presentation. Using this method will make the difference in whether you have advocates or adversaries in the room when it matters.

  2. Steve – what an awesome acronym – need to remember that 🙂

    I was going to add something along the same lines, but you said it much more eloquently than I did. Sometimes, leaders just need to stop talking and listen.

    I have always believed people cannot Not communicate

  3. Karin, Appreciate your key points here. The non-verbal queues tell a leader so much more, if we take the time to be mindful and attentive. These are the skills we need to develop so we can build better teams and organizations. Thanks! Jon

  4. Karin- this is the sentence that resonated most deeply with me: “Teach interpretation not regurgitation.” So the “teacher” is essentially asking the “students” to think outside the box. What a novel (and threatening) concept after all the years of traditional, inside the box public school teaching that rewards students for regurgitating information. Those who “dare” think outside the box as kids are labeled as “nonconformists!”

    Isn’t it too bad that many promising leaders must go back and unlearn everything they learned in school?

    Barbara Kimmel, Executive Director
    Trust Across America – Trust Around the World

    • Barbara, Thanks so much. I fully agree. We need to start building these skills young… stay tuned… I’ve got a future topic brewing in that direction….

  5. This is a great list, Karin. Full of wisdom…I really like this: “Strong leaders commit to the moment. They can’t be searching for words or remembering the talk track.”

    Unless leaders can create awareness about their environment, they will never “track” and always be left in the dark about what is going on around them…

  6. Fantastic, Karin! I think that there is also an element of hearing the energy. I worked for an org where the managers would run around with a crazy cart on Fridays to give out recognition certificates and things like pens and mugs every Friday. The managers LOVED it! The team? Not so much. The managers only heard “strong leaders recognize people” (clearly, the second part of that sentence never fully landed) “in ways that are meaningful to them.”

  7. You provided us with a wonderful list, Karin.

    I love the political undertones point as I believe that when leaders understand what is really happening and what the hidden agenda is, they can be more successful in their presentation. Before connecting with organizational leaders I always want to know what is driving their decisions and why now.

    Thanks Karin!

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