Leadership Conversations: Where are You? (Part 2)

Leadership Conversations: Where are You? (Part 2)

This is part two (of two parts) of  effective leadership communication. Part one was published on September 22, 2016.  This article lays out “how” we can improve listening skills in a corporate environment – treating people with respect and trust. Published as a post on Linked-In on 10-5-2016.


Respected leaders stop, take time and listen to their people. Engaged relationships don’t magically happen. It’s a time investment – a two-way conversation. A two-way roadway. Connecting personal and diverse puzzle pieces together. Authentic trust comes from hearing (dialed in) and encouraging people. Mind and heart are linked in.

Don’t let the menial tasks of your day be a distraction. When the work bell rings in the morning, be Available, Approachable,and an Adapter (the three A’s). Class is in session, have fun connecting with people, plug-in, pay attention for a healthy day of innovative ideas, encouraging and helping serve people.

We have numerous daily opportunities to enrich interactive communication. A prior boss – an executive leader with a Fortune 500 company – said it with perspective… “I would rather hire managers who can effectively communicate than those who are better in specific disciplines”. Skilled proactive communication is powerful in an organization.

How does it work to be quick to hear and slow to speak? 

Here are viable suggestions for listening to your staff, employees, team, boss, customers, group, and peers. Pick a few to implement.

  • Patience with interruptions: relationship building requires “devoted” time. If you’re a manager who is averse or annoyed with people and hearing their ideas, problems, conflicts and personal stuff…you may be in the wrong role. Staff engagement is directly related to your ability to support and encourage what they share with you. Their time matters. Their voice matters. Quit fidgeting as you look at your phone clock.
  • Close the office door, sit and listen: create a safe environment with confidence and respect. Don’t break their trust by telling others afterward (even your senior manager). Stop gossip in it’s tracks. If you need privacy, find it for the sake of maintaining a credulous relationship. I find sitting next to the person “non-verbally” equalizes the environment. Yes, the desk can act as a distracting barrier. Better yet, “tune-in” where they feel most comfortable for an open dialogue. If it is confidential, find a private quiet place.
  • Touch the now moment: “now here” with people is better than “nowhere”. Avoid being overwhelmed and mindfully overloaded with the tasks at hand. Mentally store them on the back burner of your mind. Tasks (believe it or not) will get done. I sometimes struggle because marking off the “to do” list becomes more critical than building relationships. Even when my strengths indicate high on the relationship building scale, I often find that completing tasks encroaches and strains my relationships. Busy schedules often flood prioritization and dilutes relationship building. The listening process becomes submerged.
  • Ask open range questions: avoid asking closed ended questions (everyone’s dead end). Questions starting with “why” puts people on guard – unless you think it is necessary for further exploration. Using “how” and “what” are good conversation starters. Summarizing a lengthy discourse helps eliminate misunderstandings and shows people you are listening. Seek and find the purpose for discussing matters with you.
  • Eliminate personal biases: appreciate genuine human complexity and diversity. Discover something distinctive about the person. What really inspires them? What does he or she enjoy about work? Do they believe they are appreciated for their contribution? Take a personal interest…it’s amazing what you discover.
  • Honesty with sharing fresh or remodeled ideas: push ego aside and encourage sharing opinions. Explore their “improvement” viewpoints – don’t be a killjoy. Remove your “ego” filters, secret agendas, and possibly defensive postures. The finest “production” and “service” improvement ideas come from the people who are actually completing the work – on the floor and in the field.
  • Eye to eye: eye contact expresses importance and candor. Pull off your “title” mask, be sincere and appreciative. This is not a “protect” your job chat. It’s about them. Let it flow – non-manipulatively and non-aggressively.
  • End multi-tasking: (seriously, stop!) move away from the computer – avoid social media prompts and don’t answer your phone (it’s rude and demeaning even if you are the boss). Turn your music off. Ask your assistant to hold calls. Create the best “listening” environment.
  • Withhold judgment: until they ask (unless there is a lapse of ethics or morals that negatively impact the company). Quit forcing advice unless asked (hard, I know). If feelings are shared, show some compassion.
  • Never wait for the annual review: they are archaic; since the methodology focuses on fixing weaknesses and permanently recording observations (summarized for 12 months!). Some managers sadly wait until the last minute to write reviews. Their conversations start and remain monologues – staying manager centered – leaving little input from the employee. So, everyone enters the room defensively. The best outcome is “hearing” people daily/frequently and to provide meaningful feedback that “builds up people”, not tearing them down. Keep a mental thread and summarize employee ideas and direction. If you are forgetful, keep a small note journal and jot down important points to your discussion.
  • See, pay attention and encourage: verbally acknowledge good performance when you see and hear it. Stop traffic to let others know the positive things they are doing (small progress steps, successful rollouts, project results, team collaboration, listening to their employees, etc.). When someone demonstrates peak performance using their strengths, compliment them and describe their strengths “in action”. Be heartfelt. Brag to your boss about their good work.
  • Follow-up: did you walk away with “next steps” from your last conversation? Your initiative with the sequel shows you listen, understand and care about people’s roles, growth and welfare. Initiate the next conversation by personally asking them – don’t use an e-mail invite.

Servant leadership prioritizes listening as a key initiative during each day – what is important to others. Be willing and able to lend an ear. Not when it’s convenient for you. Leaders become coaches who verbally unite purpose, mission, values with great work performance. The best leaders want to listen because they recognize that people bring incredible value to an organization.

Loyalty, engagement, productivity, well being, and morale greatly improve when managers recognize their employees through hearing, finding ways to support and integrate strengths in work roles. The C-D-E of listening is a practical reminder; staying focused on the other person and tuning in:


·     Find Commonality

·     Explore Differences

·     Converge to Encourage

Leaders set an example by proactive listening. It’s amazing how others will mirror this “habit of excellence” in the organization. Your next “hearing centered” conversation may be the most important conversation, ever.

Thanks for lending your ear.