Leadership By Listening

Listening is sometimes your best leadership speech. 

By Brent Filson - 11/08

If you can’t speak well, you can’t lead well.

For 25 years, I have been helping leaders improve their effectiveness by teaching them a communication methodology called the Leadership Talk.

Speeches/presentations deliver information; Leadership Talks, on the other hand, not only deliver information, but they do something much more important: they have leaders establish deep, human, emotional connections with audiences -- indispensable in achieving great results consistently.

Of course, the Leadership Talk is by definition about talking. But often there’s another communication method to employ, and it is sometimes more effective than a classic Leadership Talk: listening — listening so the other person gives you your Leadership Talk.

Getting people to give you your Leadership Talk is often far more effective in terms of having them be motivated to sign up for your cause than if you give deliver the Talk yourself.

I call this method the "Listening Leadership Talk."

Here are a few tips to make it happen.

(1) Use question marks. Your asking questions encourages people to reflect upon and talk about the challenge you face. After all, we can’t motivate anyone to do anything. They have to motivate themselves. And they best motivate themselves when they reflect on their character and their situation and are also given the opportunity to talk about their reflections.

You may not like what they say; but often their answer is better in terms of advancing their motivation and your results than your full-stop sentence.

Furthermore, their answer may prompt them to think they have come up with a good idea. People tend to be less enamored of your ideas than they are of their own.

However, be aware of the difference between asking a question of somebody and questioning them.

When asking a question, you communicate you’re interested in the answer the person wants; when questioning, you communicate you’re interested in the answer you want.

And if the people you are interacting with think you are there not for them but for yourself, you damage the environment a Listening Leadership Talk can thrive in.

(2) Create a Critical Convergence. This will help you avoid the "herding cats" syndrome. Once you get people talking, they may be all over the map, talking about everything but what you want to have talked about.

Keep things on track by establishing a critical convergence, the joining of your enthusiasms and theirs so they’re as enthusiastic as you about meeting the challenges you face. Do that by understanding their needs as problems and seeking to have them voice solutions to those problems, solutions that also advance your leadership concerns.

For instance, at a police academy classroom, the instructor passed a note to one of the recruits. It read, "CLEAR THIS CLASSROOM OUT NOW!" The recruit started shouting, "Everybody out of the room!" People looked confused. A few left. The remainder stayed. The instructor gave the note to another recruit, who pleaded, "Please, everybody out." Still, people remained there. Then the instructor gave a note to a third recruit, who developed a Listening Leadership talk by creating a critical convergence. He asked, "What time is it?" "Quarter to twelve," someone answered. The recruit with the note simply shrugged and in the silence, let the idea emerge. "Lunch break!" the recruits called in unison and quickly cleared the room.

Creating a Critical Convergence establishes an environment in which the Listening Leadership Talk flourishes.

(3) Develop a Leadership Contract. This may be written -- from a few ideas scribbled on a scrap of paper to a more formal typed version calling for your signatures -- or the Contract may simply be an oral agreement, sealed with a handshake. Clearly, it’s not a legal instrument -- nor should it embody legalese. It’s just a spelling out of the leadership actions you both agree must be taken to accomplish your goal.

Here’s the key: The best way to get that agreement is first to have them talk about actions they propose to take. Make sure they describe precise, physical actions. And not just any actions but leadership actions. Discourage them from talking about how they’ll be doing tasks. Instead, encourage them to talk about how they’ll be taking leadership of those tasks. (There is a big difference in terms of results generated between doing and leading.) Then ask how they need to be supported in those actions. Finally, ask them how those actions should be monitored and evaluated. In getting answers to these questions, you’ll be putting together a Leadership Contract by giving a Listening Leadership Talk.

The Leadership Talk is the greatest leadership tool. But the tool has its gradations of effectiveness. Often your talking is not as effective as your audience’s talking. When your Leadership Talk comes out of their mouths, not your mouth, you’ll be boosting your leadership effectiveness in new and dramatic ways.

2008 © The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


11/08© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"