The Listening Leadership Talk

The Leadership Talk is an important tool for leaders of all ranks and functions.  But some of the most effective Leadership Talks are not what leaders say but what the people they lead say.  Here are three ways to give what is often the best kind of Leadership Talk, the Listening Leadership Talk.

By Brent Filson - 2005

For more than 20 years, I have taught the Leadership Talk to thousands of people worldwide.  And maybe the most important thing I've taught isn't about talking -- at least the leader's talking. 
 
I've taught there is a hierarchy of verbal persuasion.  The lowest levels, the least effective, are speeches and presentations.  The highest levels, the most effective, are Leadership Talks.
 
I've taught that speeches/presentations communicate information; Leadership Talks, on the other hand, have leaders establish deep, human, emotional connections with audiences -- indispensable in achieving great results.
 
Of course, the Leadership Talk is by definition about talking.  But often there's a more effective dynamic to employ: listening. Not passive listening -- but listening for one purpose, so the other person gives you your Leadership Talk.
 
After all, it's not what you say that's important in a Leadership Talk but what your audience does after you have had your say. 
 
And if they do the best thing not after you speak but after you listen, then you have given one of the most effective Leadership Talks of all -- a Listening Leadership Talk.
 
The Listening Leadership Talk focuses on what other people are invariably interested in, themselves. (Who isn't interested when they themselves are talking?)  But here's the key: their simply talking is useless to your leadership.  It is only useful when their talk is the talk you need for them to give.   
 
Moving people from talking their talk to talking your talk -- and ultimately walking your walk --is the art of the Listening Leadership Talk. 
 
Here are a few tips to make it happen. 
 
(1) Use question marks.  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 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?"  "Five 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—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 may find you are raising your leadership effectiveness to much higher levels.

 

2005© 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"