Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Don’t Let Limited Perspective Destroy Your Team

Limited perspective traps leaders and drives apart teams.

Recently, I’ve watched an organization of passionate and caring people disintegrate. The limited perspective of leaders and team members has frustrated communication and problem-solving. They’ve devolved into camps of us vs. them. It can happen to any team if you don’t pay attention to how you see the world.

When the World Changes

I grew up in southwest Denver.

Late in the day, as the sun settled toward the mountains west of the city, I loved to see downtown Denver highlighted in the evening light. My favorite version of this view happened after a summer thunderstorm. The crenelated gray, black, and white skyline glowed with hope against the dark purple clouds that had taken their wrath out to the plains.

When I was twelve years old, my friend’s mother invited us to volunteer with her at a shelter for mothers who had escaped abusive relationships. We had to make solemn promises not to reveal the shelter’s location. It was easy for me to promise, because I had no idea where it was.

We drove to the shelter on a cold December morning. We rode in the back of a pickup truck, laying down as flat as we could to stay out of the bitter wind.

When we arrived, I sat up. And the world shifted.

My skyline, the familiar arrangement of glass and steel, had been put into a cloth bag, shaken, and poured out. This was not my downtown.

We were northeast of the city center, directly opposite of where I’d grown up.

The world swayed, but then I was struck by another thought: there were children who grew up in this neighborhood. These alien buildings that disturbed me were their familiar anchor.

I’ve relived that moment hundreds of times as my known world expands. There is always another point of view beyond my limited perspective. And as strange, unsettling, and foreign as it may seem—it is all the normal another person has ever known.

Leading Through Limited Perspective

Have you ever had your perspective shift like that? Has new information, a new experience, or a new person made you look at the world differently?

I hope so. Being able to see the world differently is a vital leadership skill.

Whether it’s the empathy to see how a new system feels to your customers or employees or the ability to ask “What if?” and view your opportunities in a different way, moving beyond your limited perspective will help you have more influence and think more strategically.

The leaders in the organization I mentioned have struggled with a changing world. Both groups deeply believe in the organization’s purpose and values. The challenge is that over time, people have started to interpret those values through a narrowing set of experiences.

As concerned team members raised issues, they were told “There is no problem”—because, seen through leaders’ limited perspective, there truly wasn’t a problem. The organization’s environment changed, but their leaders didn’t change with it – and now they’re bleeding talent.

When you lose your ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes, you get stuck being “right,” but you’re not effective.

How to Not Let Limited Perspective Trap You

None of us are immune to this trap. Staying connected to the people you lead and maintaining a flexible and curious worldview takes work. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from getting stuck.

Listen for their truth—when a team member shares a concern, search for their truth. Not the Truth, but their truth. How are they feeling? What are they seeing? They’re not making it up. What is there for you to learn or keep in mind?

Get curious—when something doesn’t make sense, resist the urge to discount it. Instead, create some space to ask questions. If nothing else, you can say, “Tell me more …” and see what insights emerge.

Focus on what’s right, not who’s right—my friend Bob Tipton wrote a great book on this topic. When you change your perspective from defining who is right or wrong to figuring out what will be healthy and helpful for everyone, you’re on your way to a bigger perspective and greater influence.

Practice being uncomfortable—new perspectives are unsettling. It is strange and troubling to discover that the way you’ve seen things wasn’t entirely accurate. But since that’s where the breakthroughs happen, it’s worth getting used to it. You can practice in small and fun ways. Try something new every week. Ask someone to explain a hobby or passion you don’t understand. Travel – even if it’s just to the next city. Go as far as your resources allow and let it change your perspective.

Ask “What’s next?”—Strategic leaders don’t just focus on the change that happened yesterday. They’re looking ahead at the change that’s coming and intentionally shifting their approach. What has changed and will change in your environment? For your people? For your customers or clients?

Share information  – This one helps you and your team. When your team’s perspective is limited, share more information. Give them the data they need to make more informed decisions. When you do, they are better able to craft solutions that weren’t available to you.

Your Turn

It’s easy to get trapped by a limited perspective that alienates you from your team, but you don’t have to let it happen. Leave a comment and share your best strategy to stay nimble and maintain a flexible perspective.

one easy way to have more influence

One Easy Way to Have More Influence

More influence isn’t always about what you say.

I knew Gary wasn’t happy.

During my first time in a mid-level management role, one of my team leaders was clearly struggling. He looked frustrated, sounded frustrated, and it didn’t take a genius to know something was bothering Gary.

So I asked if I could get him coffee and hear what was on his mind.

He sipped a cappuccino and shared his troubles: he’d been disrespected and abused by a senior manager, his team wasn’t doing as well as he hoped, he wasn’t sure the company’s vision matched his own, and so on.

Gary appreciated my invitation to coffee and the opportunity to be heard. Then I tried to be helpful.

He was halfway through his first issue when I interrupted and offered solutions, tried to help him see the issue or person differently, or pointed out where he might be responsible.

Finally, he looked at me and said, “David! You asked me how I was feeling and what’s bothering me…quit arguing. I’m just trying to answer your question.”

He had a point.

A Common Influence Mistake

Gary might have needed help, or it could be that just talking through what was bothering him would do the trick. Your team may need help, but you won’t be able to help them if you make the same critical leadership mistake I did.

I didn’t keep my mouth shut long enough. I wasn’t truly present with Gary. I had jumped ahead to my own response.

Most leaders think of influence as talking – or maybe leading by example. We see rousing speeches in movies, we remember key pieces of advice we’ve heard from our mentors, and we know we have something worthwhile to share. However, when you think of influence only in terms of what you say, you leave out the most critical piece:

Listening.

A Columbia Business School study found that when it comes to influencing others, your listening skills outrank your verbal ability. It makes sense. Listening builds trust and helps you get the information you need to offer your conversation partner what they most need.

When it comes to helping someone, good intentions don’t make the difference. Effective action, what you do that works, means everything. I’d intended to help, but in my youthful rush to show what I knew and be valuable, I’d missed the most important thing I could have done.

5 Ways to Listen Influentially

Your team needs you to regularly ask, “How can I help?” When you ask, be sure to really listen. Here are a few tips to improve your listening skills and build your influence.

1. Put down the phone.

Seriously. Put it on silent, put it face down or stash it in a bag. Get rid of it.

You simply can’t give someone your full attention with the mental stimulation of email, voice messages, and texts. Put it away and focus on the person.

2. Maintain eye contact.

Don’t be creepy, but maintain eye contact. For that time, there is nothing else going on and no one else in the world, but the person you’re talking to.

3. Empathize

Empathy communicates that you understand how the other person feels. You’re not agreeing or sanctioning – just recognizing their emotions. For example:

  • “That must have been frustrating.”
  • “Sounds like you felt like no one else cared?”
  • “That would be upsetting.”
  • “Wow – you must have been excited.”

4. Summarize

Before going any farther, take a moment to check for understanding about what the other person said. Use your own words and ask if you’ve got it right. If not, ask questions or encourage them to help you get it. Fully connect with their emotions and thoughts. Until you’ve done that, you haven’t listened.

5. Ask permission.

Once you’ve fully connected to the emotion and the thought, if you feel you have something helpful to add to the conversation, ask permission to share it. This is a huge integrity move and demonstrates tremendous respect for the other person.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Something like, “I appreciate you trusting me enough to share those things. Would you be interested in hearing ways you might address that or is it enough to get it off your chest?”

Your Turn

When you fully connect and have acknowledged the other person’s dignity, then you’re in a position to be truly helpful. Leave us a comment and share a time when you were influenced by a powerful listener, or your best practice to ensure others are heard.

How Do You Know What Your Team is Thinking?

How to Know What Your Team is Really Thinking

Are you listening to your team
and the stories they tell?

During times of change and uncertainty, your team is desperate for information. They’re looking for the story behind the story. They’re thirsty to listen to anyone who knows what’s REALLY  going on. And in the absence of information, they’ll find their own stories and share them widely.

Most of the time, those stories are 10X worse than the truth you’re afraid to share. 

Yes, get your story together to explain what you’re doing and why. Hold town hall meetings. Conduct great skip level meetings.  Walk around as much as possible, AND don’t overlook the importance of listening to the stories your team members are telling one another.

Simon’s Story

I met Simon, a millennial Austrian engineer on a recent diving trip. He’d quit his well-paying engineering job and was on a 3-month backpacking adventure in South America. Curious about what gives someone the courage to just quit a job with nothing lined up when they return, I asked to hear his story.

Our company got bought by a Canadian-owned multinational company. All they care about is profits and reducing costs. They’ve created all these remote teams without much training or communication and I now work for a German boss who is a complete #@%&@$#.

They cancelled the Christmas Party!

You’re a leadership person, don’t you think that’s a bad sign? And then right after they cancelled the Christmas party, they had a big meeting where they brought us all in to talk about how great it was going to be and all this rah-rah about being one team. They had money for that, but not for the Christmas party?

This company is ruthless. So I quit. I’m going to travel and when I come back, I’m going to find a job for a smaller company that really cares.

I asked him what he would have wanted to hear in that big meeting.

The truth about where we are going. Transparency about the vision and cost-cutting efforts. How and why decisions are being made and how I will be impacted. Is that too much to ask?

In the absence of information, Simon had built his own story of bloodthirsty opportunistic grinches, which of course was validated by the stories of his peers–many of whom are still there looking for more evidence their story is true.

It might be. Or maybe not.

I don’t know about this company or the leadership motives behind their communication strategy. But, I’ve worked with enough senior level teams to know that there is another side of the story.

I asked Simon if he had shared why he had really left.

“No one asked.”

Sarah’s Story

And now what I heard from Sarah, just the other day.

I was brought in to do some “brand ambassador” training. The focus was how to help frontline employees provide extraordinary customer service and represent this premium brand.

The minute I walked into the room, I knew there was no way we could start there. So after some introductions and some fun, I asked, “What’s really scaring you about what’s happening in the company right now?”

Sarah spoke up first:

The only people who care about the customer around here are the people in this room. Ever since the merger (8 years ago) it’s been all downhill and now this new IT system is the final straw. Now we won’t have any choice but to be “corporate.” We’ve lost all ability to do the right thing for our customers.

Now this time, I DID know the other side of the story. I understood how and why the new IT system would improve the customer experience. I’d engaged in hours of discussions about the importance of extraordinary customer service as their key differentiator. In fact, that’s why I had been brought in. The senior team’s number one priority was differentiation around an extraordinary customer experience.

But that story doesn’t matter. Until we understand the story Sarah and her friends were sharing.

“Why do you stay here?” I asked.

George spoke up next, “because these people are like family, but you can bet I’ve stopped wearing my company shirt to the bowling alley. And if someone sees me at the grocery store with it on, I make up a story of winning the shirt in a golf tournament.”

It was only after hearing their very real stories, that we could begin the real work of transforming the customer experience, digging into the AND of personalized service and the value of new systems to take that experience to the next level.

Why the Brain Loves Stories

I know you are working to frame the story you want your team to hear. It’s also so vital to slow down and be really open to hearing the stories they are telling one another.

Paul Zak has done some fantastic research that matters when it comes to your culture and how your team processes change.

The first part of the answer (as to why the brain loves stories) is that as social creatures who regularly affiliate with strangers, stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts. In the absence of information, your team is more likely to make up a story far worse than even your most difficult bad news.

Do your best to be as much of a story listener as a storyteller.

Hear their stories. Listen well. Share yours. Listen again.

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10 questions managers should ask when their teams won't listen

10 Questions Managers Should Ask When Their Team Won’t Listen

One of the most challenging management experiences you’ll encounter is when it feels like your team won’t listen.

  • You share your vision of the future, what the team’s capable of achieving…and are met with shrugs and silent stares.
  • You share a new process to improve results…and everyone keeps on doing what they’ve always done.
  • You make recommendations grounded in real data…and they are ignored.

Leadership Opportunities

These times when it feels like your team won’t listen are great opportunities to build your influence. You might be tempted to turn to fear, power, and a raised voice to get things done, but I invite you to pause and look at what’s happening before you do.

When you learn from these moments your effectiveness will soar, but if you allow yourself to get so frustrated that you turn to fear or power to get things done, you lose credibility and trust.

Here are 10 questions to ask when you feel like your team won’t listen:

1) What do you want?

Whenever you have leadership challenges, the first thing to examine is your own desire.

There’s a big difference between wanting what’s best for the team and wanting what’s best for you. So what is it you really want?

If the answer is compliance “When I say jump, they better ask ‘how high?’ on the way up” – then you’re never going to have a team that truly listens. They will do things out of fear when they must and ignore you when they can.

However, if what you want for the team to achieve great results together…then keep reading.

2) Are you speaking their language?

Do the actual words you use mean the same thing to your team that they mean to you? Are you sharing numbers and facts when stories and demonstrations are needed, or do your stories need more data and explanation?

3) Have you listened?

When you don’t hear what people tell you, they naturally think you don’t care, they lose heart, and they’ll stop caring.

Not sure if your team is being heard? Ask a few team members to share with you: “Is there anything you’ve been trying to tell me that I’m just not hearing?”

Be quiet and listen. Thank them for sharing…and respond in time, even if it’s to explain constraints or why you’re taking a different direction. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to hear.

4) Are you credible?

If your people can say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and they have evidence to back up their conclusion, well, expect to be ignored.

You build your credibility. You can’t demand it. Can people trust you? Can they rely on you? Take a moment and seriously consider the answer to these questions. If you were on your own team, would you trust you, based only on what you see and experience?

5) Do you know what matters to your people?

If the values you’re promoting conflict with your team’s values, you’ll have trouble being heard. I worked with a CEO who was disappointed that her employees were leaving work when they were scheduled to leave. She wanted people who valued going the extra distance to get things done. Her employees loved their work, but they also valued their family and friends and considered it nearly immoral to sacrifice family relationships for work.

6) Are you ordering people or inviting them?

Look at both the literal words you’re using as well as the attitude behind them.

Do your words and attitude communicate dignity and equal worth? Or do your words and attitude suggest that you’re better than everyone else and they should just do what they’re told?

7) Have you explained why?

Your team’s lack of response may be because they don’t understand the consequences. Why is this important? How does it make a difference to other people? To the bottom line? Even military briefings include the reasons and objectives behind the orders.

8) Did you check for understanding?

When you share a task and ask “Are there any questions?” you will likely be met with silence.

Don’t assume that silence means they get it. Silence could mean confusion, embarrassment, or that they think they understand.

Rather, ask your team something like: “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. What are the three things we’re doing coming out of this meeting? Why does this matter? When will these be finished? Make sure they received what you thought you communicated.

9) Have you said it often enough?

I have coached many frustrated leaders who complain that their team is insubordinate or unresponsive.

So then I ask “When was the last time you shared this task or explained what was supposed to happen?”

Some of the answers I’ve heard include:

  • “At that off-site year before last…”
  • “We were in the hallway six months ago…”
  • “At the company meeting last January…”

If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.

As hard as it may be for your ego to accept, your team members have other lives. They have constant challenges confronting them every day.

It’s unrealistic to believe that something you said one time, last year, is on everyone’s mind. If it’s important, be the drummer. Keep the beat and consistently communicate the MITs (Most Important Things.)

10) Have you said it in different ways?

People receive information differently. I’m a reader first, audio second, and video third. But many other people get much more from video or other visuals.

As you reinforce the MITs, use different communication techniques.

We recommend 6×3 communication. The idea is to repeat critical information at least six times through three or more channels. For example, you might use a staff meeting, a video, and one-on-one meetings for your three different channels.

Your Turn

When it feels like your team won’t listen, it is easy to get frustrated and give in to the temptation to yell louder. But effective leaders know that when it seems no one’s listening, there are likely other issues that need to be resolved.

If you feel like your team won’t listen, ask yourself these ten questions…and listen to your answers.

Leave us a comment and share: How do you ensure you’ve been heard when communicating with your team?


Creative Commons photo by Bryan Katz

how do I foster better communication on my team

Better Communication: How to Ensure Your Team Gets It

As a leader, how do you foster better communication on your team? How do you ensure they’re picking up what you’re putting down? How do you help them get it?

One Way to Foster Better Communication

It had been a long night…and morning…and afternoon at the airport.

The kind where cancellations and delays compound into a complex verb of frustration that includes four letters. The kind where you start to notice the characters around you and make up their stories.

I had pegged the guy next to me for a Baptist preacher. Among other signs, it was HOW he earnestly offered to watch my stuff as I went to the bathroom, “Ma’am I’ve been watching ladies purses for decades. I watch my wife’s purse. I watch my girl’s purses. I watch my wife’s friend’s friends purses. So whatever you need. I’m your purse watching man.”

And I trusted him.

He was on the phone when I came back from the bathroom. He silently nodded and grinned toward my big red purse which also serves as a computer bag, dongle carrier, journal holder, with nooks and crannies for light snacks and kombucha.

Nope, definitely not Baptist preacher–bankruptcy lawyer. Now I’m intrigued and can’t help but overhear his conversation occurring in such a beautiful Southern drawl it would have been fun to hear, even if I couldn’t understand the words.

Now my wife says I hear okay, but I doooon’t listen tooooo gooood. Let me repeat back what I’m hearing you say you want to do.”  

Silence as the caller responds. Then…

“You see sir, my wife is right. That is just NOT one of the options. Let me be clear. You CAAAAN’T do THAAAT. How about this? Let me share with you your three options again.”

Gives three options. Then…

“You sleep on it.  Call your Momma or talk to your wife…and then we’ll talk again tomorrow.”

I’m beside myself. This is the most remarkable Winning Well check for understanding I’ve ever heard. Full-on confident humility.

“Sir, Thank so much for watching my bag, and indeed you are a remarkable purse watcher. AND I couldn’t help but to overhear…What you did there was brilliant.

You see I wrote this book… and my co-author (now fiance, but that’s another story) and I had this remarkable disagreement about whether the ‘check for understanding’ should be included. I thought it was too simple. He swore it was a vital concept. As we’ve been doing workshops, guess what’s one of the top 10 take-aways?

The funny part is, the higher the managers  are in the organization, the more they love it.

It’s so easy.  

‘Do a simple check to understand…are they picking up what you’re putting down?’

Instead of  ‘Any questions?’ or ‘Are you with me?’ You ask… ‘Okay, so I just want to check to ensure we’re all on the same page…’ and then get them to repeat back. ‘What are we going to do first? And then? By when?’ “

He shared, “Karin, I’ve been doing this for years. When people are going through bankruptcy or periods of change and uncertainty  they hear what they want to–not necessarily what’s true. I give them a way to hear it again.”

Amen.

There’s real power in hearing what your team hears. That’s a great start for fostering better communication.

Do You Hear Them Now? 11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

I once sat in an executive meeting where the SVP explained that Bob, a junior level executive who reported to her had “gotten away” with challenging her boss, the COO’s, ideas. She shared, “When Bob started to challenge him, I was really afraid for his career, but Joe (the COO) actually seemed okay with it.” She laughed as she said how lucky he was that he wasn’t fired, and how other people hadn’t faired so well in the past. Everyone else laughed along uncomfortably. Bob didn’t smile.

I’m still wondering exactly why she shared that story. I think it was an attempt to portray her boss as more reasonable than his reputation allowed. But quite frankly, this one-off story reinforced that an executive really listening to someone a few levels below was not the norm.

We all had a feeling that Bob had been sitting in the “ready now” box of the performance potential succession planning forever. He was a confident and humble rock star and we all knew it. His tenacity was highly valued with his immediate boss and amongst his peers, but something was holding him back.

Maybe his willingness to speak up was part of the issue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room left being just a little more cautious of what they said.

If you’re keeping score, that’s not a sign of a listening culture.

11 Signs You Have a Listening Culture

My regular readers may have noticed I’m on a bit of a listening culture theme. In addition to how imporant listening is, there’s a pragmatic reason for the deep dive.

After a meeting planner read my post, What Happens When We Really Listen, she invited me to come work with 15 CEOs/CFOs of large manufacturing companies to talk about how to create a listening culture. I’m calling it, Do You Hear Them Now: How to Build a Listening Culture.  I’m headed out to conference this week, so I’m inviting you to continue to steep in, and weigh in on, what a listening culture looks and feels like. Ideas:

Sign #1: Imagination abounds: People at all levels are thinking about the business and sharing ideas.

Sign #2: Ideas trump titles: A great idea is a great idea, regardless of who thought of it.

Sign #3: Customer feedback is encouraged, not gamed: Employees at all levels are really listening to what customers are saying, not encouraging them to say what they to hear to improve their scorecard.

Sign #4: Feedback creates change: Feedback is taken seriously, and often acted upon.

Sign #5: Everyone is asking good questions: And getting real answers.

Sign #6: No one freaks out when an exec shows up unexpectedly: MBWA is just that (management by walking around), not OCHTC (oh crap here they come).

Sign #7: Meetings are conversations, not readouts: Meetings are used to make decisions and build relationships.

Sign #8: No one is shocked by the employee engagement survey results: Because they’ve been listening, they know what’s working and are already working on the trouble spots.

Sign #9: Hourly workers have regularly planned time to meet and share ideas about improving the business: Time “off-line” improves the business.

Sign #10: Employees feel an obligation to speak up when something feels stupid: Because they know they’ll be heard, they feel and obligation to share.

Sign #11: Personal issues are treated with compassion: Real listening happens when people open their hearts, set aside their biases, and care.

On a related note: 5 Secrets to Great Skip Level Meetings continues to be on of my most read posts. If you missed that one, and are working on creating a listening culture, you might find it useful.

7 Ways to Create a Listening Culture

If you could wave a magic wand and suddenly make every employee in your organization proficient in one behavior what would that be? Critical thinking? Customer-orientation? Sales?

No matter which behavior I consider, I’m hard pressed to come up with one that would be more impactful with just a bit more listening.

Listening transforms relationships.

Listening makes customers feel valued.

Listening gets to root cause.

Listening attracts business.

Yet, in most organizations I work with, people talk a heck more than they listen. Most of us can’t claim that we consistently listen well.

So how do you set out to build a culture of effective listening? Start with these 7 steps.

1. Tell the Truth

Nothing will make people tune out faster than smelling BS. If you want people to truly listen, be sure they can believe what you say. A culture of real listening can only happen when people can count on one another for candor. Encourage transparency and truth telling, starting at the very top.

2. Be Interesting

Sounds basic, right? If you want people to listen, speak in an interesting way. Tell meaningful stories  Ditch the 35 page PowerPoint deck and explain why your project really matters.

3. Show Up Like an Anthropologist

Anthropologists don’t go to a scene with something to prove, they show up subtly and listen carefully. They ask great questions and make meaning from the responses. Imagine the possibilities if more executives approached their field visits with the attitude of an anthropologist. Or if more sales reps worked to truly listen to what customers were saying about their lifestyles and values.

4. Be Interested

To encourage deeper listening, be a great listener. Approach conversations with empathy and compassion. Let your words, body language and actions show that you’re very interested in who they are and what they’re saying.

5. Reward Transparency

If you freak out every time you get bad news, all you’ll get is Diaper Genie feedback, where the poop is disguised in so much packaging you can’t even smell it. Thank people for bringing you the truth. Surround yourself with those who will challenge your ideas. Promote those willing to speak up.

6. Encourage Field Trips

One of the best ways to build a listening culture is to have encourage cross-departmental visits. Give your teams permission to visit their counterparts upstream or downstream in the process. Let them share their challenges, pressures and successes.

7. Get Social

Social media provides amazing opportunities to listen to customers. A good social care strategy listen’s beyond the # and the @. Social platforms can be great for internal listening as well. One of my clients recently implemented Yammer and is delighted by the informal conversations forming and how they can trend what’s most important on people’s minds.

3 Listening Lessons We Can All Use From Political Leadership

A Guest Post from Rose Fass, CEO at Fass Forward.

Many leaders talk a good game. Some have even managed to talk their way to the top. But ironically, there’s one leadership quality that often gets the silent treatment. It’s listening to how the message was received.

Politicians are masters of message discipline. They speak in sound bites, which gives repeatable expression to their ideas. Next, they listen to focus groups, surveys, polls, and constituents to see how their message landed with their audience.

Did it create a buzz? Did it move people to action? Did it win them votes? Conveying a message isn’t enough. Leaders need to know how it was perceived and if it was effective in winning over their people. Say what you will about the world of politics, there are at least a few things leadership communicators could learn from political leadership.

The power of real leadership starts with the conversation. You have them every day…and those conversations have a powerful impact on your people and how your company does business…every day. If listening isn’t treated as a critical piece of message discipline, it certainly adds additional meaning to the expression, “He’s all talk.”

Listening Polls

Let’s assume that you lead by carefully crafting concise messages and conveying them with clarity. Then, you move on to the next piece of business. On the other hand, if you take the time to really listen, you’ll get two earfuls of terrific, actionable information. Suddenly, you can hear what your people have been trying to tell you all along. You’ll also have a better grasp of everything from what customers are saying to what’s frustrating your followers.

Listening more carefully to employees and customers can help close those gaps that open up unexpectedly at the intersection of strategy and execution.

Listen to yourself, too. Many leaders talk to themselves. Surprisingly, not enough listen to themselves. Successful leaders need for their ideas, visions, strategies and messages to come across clearly. Listen to what you’re saying. Is it being interpreted as intended? Is everyone on the same page? Are there breakdowns in execution? It all comes down to how your message lands. So be sure to spend more time in the land of listening.

What Gets Heard Equals What Gets Done

Listening is a two-way street. They want you to listen to them. You want them to listen to you. So listen up to these message discipline leadership tactics to ensure that what you say is what gets heard so what you envision is what gets done.

Listen To What You Say

Start with your message. Craft it carefully. Simplify it. Edit it until only the essence has been captured. Distill it down so it only delivers details that frame a solid main idea.

Next, Ask Yourself:

  • Are my expectations presented clearly or have I opened the door to confusion?
  • Will my people know how to pick up where my message left off?
  • Can our cast of corporate characters all see the roles they’re playing in the overall picture?

Listen To What Gets Heard

Hear your people. Ask for feedback. Now, get ready to:

  • Absorb the feedback and take decisive action.
  • Listen to what people are telling you with sensitivity.
  • Address all critical concerns and unmet needs.

Listen to What Gets Done

You delivered your message. You know it was heard. You now want action. Keep listening and continue to:

  • Hold yourself and your people accountable.
  • Monitor results and look for marks that have been missed.
  • Analyze whether your message is aligned with your strategy, company direction and what people are doing.

Three Points to Remember

  1. Message discipline drives operational discipline.
  2. Strategy is validated by execution of the message.
  3. Leaders who don’t listen are missing a lot.

7 Reasons You Won’t Hear The Truth

Your team decides what you can handle. Like parents protecting young children, they safeguard you and themselves. They anticipate tantrums, and work around them. They’ll even throw in a few things “they’re worried about,” to make you feel better.

Don’t blame them. You’ve taught them well. Your well-intended intensity sends them to the nearest diaper genie to package their story. To get the real deal, avoid these common traps.

How To Ensure You Won’t Hear The Truth

  1. Rush To Fix It – They’ve got this. Your “fix” may aggravate the situation. Escalating may damage peer relationships they’ve been working hard to develop. Instead ask how you can best help.
  2. Model It – Your team watches how you manage your boss. Watch what filtering you model. They’re picking up these skills from you. Show them how you give your boss bad news.
  3. Freak Out – Breathe. Nothing will shut them down more than high-emotions.
  4. Use It Against Them – They don’t want their mistakes to haunt them. If you don’t know, you can’t “ding” them. Encourage them to come to you with problems and solutions. Commend them for their honesty.
  5. Assign More Work – They’re already overwhelmed working the issue. Roll-up your sleeves to brainstorm solutions, but don’t just start assigning to-dos.
  6. Bring In The experts – Sure suggest folks who can help, but resist the urge to bring in a superhero to take over.
  7. Require More Updates – Now you’re nervous. It’s natural to want more frequent updates. If you need more info, make it easy. The team doesn’t have time to build more Powerpoints to update you. They’ve got work to do.

How To Encourage The Truth

  1. T – Time: Be sensitive to scar tissue from previous bosses. Raise the issue one person at a time. Ask how you’re doing and what it will take to nurture their trust.
  2. R – Receive well: Really listen to what they’re saying. Gently probe for more information. Ask follow-up questions, including how you can best help.
  3. U – Understand: Reiterate what you’ve heard. Use empathy statements, “Wow, that must be really frustrating”.
  4. T – Take it offline: Casually talk to team members one-on-one. Ask what worries them most, and how you can help. Ask what they think you should be worried about.
  5. H – Honest: Calmly articulate any concerns. Being real with them, will encourage them to be real with you.

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.

Pause for Effectiveness: 9 Powerful Times to Pause

Your team needs you, you respond. They have questions, you have answers. The phone rings, you pick it up. Great leadership? A pause can be more powerful. Speakers pause for effect; Great leaders pause for effectiveness.

A powerful pause is a wildly under utilized leadership tool. Awkward silence creates opportunity. I’ve never regretted a pause. I’ve got buckets-full of “I wish I had paused” moments. When in doubt, pause more often.

9 Powerful Pauses

A pause gives you both time to think. Pauses calm emotions. Pregnant pauses give birth to vibrant ideas. 7 situations where pausing is most powerful. Let’s pass the pause, what would you add?

  1. Compliments – You’ve been given a tremendous compliment. Pause and take it in. Look them back in the eye, with a sincere thank you. Pause amplifies appreciation.
  2. Sad News – Sad or disappointing news is often shocking. It’s difficult to know what to say. Give your heart time to adjust. Connect–then speak.
  3. Anger (yours) – Sometimes a grown-up “time-out” is the best remedy. Step back. Think more. If you really want to say “it,” there will be time. You will likely find better words after a breather.
  4. Anger (theirs) – They’re spitting teeth. Accusations. Exaggerated facts. Misrepresented viewpoints. You’re tempted to respond immediately. You must clear it up. They interrupt, you talk faster, or louder. They’ll hear you more clearly after a good pause. If you stop talking so will they. They may even breathe in the process.
  5. Ideas (yours) – If your idea’s that great, it will still be there after others have had a chance to talk. In fact, it will be even better if you use it to build on what others have to say. Let others talk first, then share.
  6. 6. Ideas (theirs) – Pause. Let them keep going. Let them build on their thinking. Nod, smile, encourage. Try not saying a word, until they get it all out.
  7. No Ideas – It’s amazing how often people will talk until they have something to say. If you don’t know, go slow. Quiet creates contribution.
  8. Silence – Now it’s even more tempting to fill the space. No one else is talking, and you’re the leader. Best for you to set the stage? Maybe. Or what if you said, “Yikes, this one’s tough. let’s all take a minute to consider the options.”
  9. Ring-a-ling – Most of the time when the phone rings or the text beeps in, we answer right away. Sometimes necessary. Sometimes not. Consider a pause to stay in the moment. Then call back with complete attention.
  10. What would you add?

Distracted Driving: Lead with Care

You’re distracted. Multi-tasking. Getting work done. You’re trying hard to give everyone the attention they need. It’s hard. If you’re like me, being spread too thin leads to distracted focus.

Distraction speaks louder than words.

Today’s post, Distraction Speaks Louder than Words,  comes via the Lead Change Group, a terrific community of leadership thinkers. My inspiration for this topic came from comments on my Effective Listening: Necessary But Not Sufficient post.

Distracted Driving at Work

What Your Team Hears When You Can’t Hear Them…

  • You are not that important to me
  • Others matter more
  • Your project is not my priority
  • Your project is not important
  • I don’t respect your opinion
  • I don’t really care about you
  • I’m not invested in your success read more here

Happy Memorial Day From Let’s Grow Leaders. Lead well. Drive safely.