Trust Me!

Yikes! Would you trust him? I’m not sure I would. Although, she seems to be on the board of her own free will and there appear to be at least four successful attempts so far. Still, one wrong move and she’s a goner. The stakes are as high as they get in this relationship. Fortunately, the stakes aren’t nearly that high in most of our relationships. Yet, it seems there is less trust in many of our relationships, especially at work, than there is between these two.

I’ve written on Trust in previous posts. I wrote about the Engager Dynamic called Trust. Later I wrote about How to make a Habit of Trust. Trust is so critical to work that I’m compelled to write about it again. In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey says that the true equation for Results is (Strategy x Execution) x Trust = Results. In that equation low trust is like a tax that diminishes your results and high trust is like a dividend that increases your results. It’s that important.

Credibility Gap

Covey writes about Four Core elements of Self-Trust which he says is all about credibility. The elements are Integrity, Intent, Capabilities, and Results. In my experience the question of Intent seems crucial. The new COO of an organization recently distributed his written leadership philosophy. It contained the statement, “We judge ourselves by our intent. Others judge us by our behavior.”

Intent is someone’s planned or desired outcome. Behavior is the manifestation of one’s Agenda and Motive which, hopefully, fully and accurately represent their intent. The COO’s point is that all anyone has to go on when deciding on your credibility is your behavior. They can only discern your intent by what they see you do. Covey makes the great point that often trust is depleted simply because of a poorly executed good intent. The intentions were noble but the behavior failed to accurately reflect the intention. When that happens people interpret the intent by the poorly executed behavior. At best they are confused. At worst they become suspicious of your intent and trust evaporates.

Several weeks ago, I was on a conference call with some corporate leaders. In the room with me were 8 – 10 other team members on speaker phone. One of the corporate leaders congratulated me for a particular accomplishment. I had done none of the actual work to achieve the celebrated outcome so my intent was to give credit where credit was due and I quickly named off the people in the room who had actually achieved that result, except one. I still don’t know how I left that person’s name out but that was a poorly executed good intent.  Later, I apologized but I can never get that moment back.

Prevention

On Covey’s list of the core elements of credibility, intent is the least obvious to the observer. Integrity, capabilities, and results are much easier to see from the outside. It’s the questions about intent, especially for a boss, that cause so much energy to be wasted on suspicion and CYA when trust is low. If someone doesn’t trust their bosses intentions, they will be less productive because they’re wasting time and energy trying to figure out what s/he is up to and planning their next move like a chess player.

There are at least two things you can do to prevent misunderstanding about your intentions. First, declare your intentions. When you take an action or make a decision, let people know what your intentions are for that action. That way, when they recognize the outcome you intended, your credibility goes up.

The second thing you can do is to invite feedback. Don’t assume people will come to you and let you know they are confused about your intentions. Establish yourself as an open person by inviting and then graciously receiving feedback. Do that enough times and people will come to you voluntarily with their feedback. That’s how I found out I had left the person off the list on that conference call. They came to me after the call and told me. They only did that because they knew I was open to feedback.

Cure

By the way, those two steps are also helpful in repairing trust that has been broken. It most likely will have to be in the reverse order, though. Invite feedback when you believe trust is low. You may have to examine and adjust your intent, motive, or agenda to regain credibility. If so, say so. Otherwise explain your intent and make restitution for any harm poor execution may have caused.

Covey’s “Waves of Trust” are a ripple effect starting with one’s personal credibility, which impacts relationship trust, organizational trust, market trust, and finally societal trust. We have a crisis of trust all around us. Don’t let it prevail in your organization. Take steps to establish your credibility. As Ghandi said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”

Stay In Your Lane

When I was in Junior High and High School, I ran track. Back then races were measured in yards and I did the 100, the 220, the 440 relay and the Long Jump. When you do sprints, you learn pretty quickly that you have to stay in your lane. In fact, if you veer out of your lane, you will be disqualified from the race because it’s very dangerous to be running as fast as you can and have someone bump into you or clip your heel.

Another place where it’s important to stay in your lane is traffic. In fact, you will often see road signs telling you to stay in your lane. There is road construction right now on the highway that goes through our town and they’ve painted solid white lane lines through part of it to remind drivers to stay in their lanes through that part. It involves a lane shift and accidents can happen if people change lanes through there.

What Are They Afraid Of?

I understand, in Track and Field and traffic, why people should stay in their lanes. But what about in organizations? I’ve heard the same admonishment given to people who voiced an idea about something that wasn’t necessarily in their “lane.” The phrase, “Stay in your lane,” is defined in the urban and in the slang dictionary as: “mind your own business, don’t veer over into my (personal) affairs.” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says,”The phrase stay in your lane is used as a term of admonishment or advice against those who express thoughts or opinions on a subject about which they are viewed as having insufficient knowledge or ability.”

In organizations, we hire people to perform certain job functions. We need those functions done well so we hire people with related skills and experience. We expect them to focus their time and energy on those functions for which we hired them. When they get out of that “lane,” we fear their primary job function will suffer. We also fear their ideas or advice may be detrimental to the organization if it’s not their area of expertise.

Are You More Than Your Lane?

I guess I don’t want a mechanic giving me advice on taking care of my heart. But, wait, what if that mechanic had recently experienced a heart attack and was sharing with me some things they learned from their cardiologist, helpful changes they’ve made in their own life? Would that change your openness to their advice? It would mine.

I believe, when we require people to “stay in their lanes,” we short change the organization. Everyone who works there is far more, and brings far more to the table than just what is in their “lane.” Their past work experiences, their education, their life experience outside of work all bring potential value to the work at hand. Even their temperament type and their approach to work can add value across lanes.

In one organization that is trying to adopt a culture of freely collaborating across disciplines (lanes), a unique group recently formed on its own to solve a problem. The safety manager (a process guy), the compliance director (responsible for assuring the service meets all contractual and regulatory requirements), and the administrative assistant to the compliance director (a real project manager type), had an idea about how to fix a problem that had plagued the organization for 3 years.

After receiving the green light from the leadership, they went to work. Within a couple weeks this collaborative team took the organization from 35% validated performance to 100% validated performance. They were able to do it because they worked together, outside their lanes, and took an innovative approach to solving the problem.

So, in track and field and in traffic, definitely stay in your lane. In your organization, consider the value of allowing cross lane collaboration. You just might see amazing results.

Love ’em or Lose ’em

Believe it or not, the last eight posts have been around one theme. In the notes where I write and store the posts, I have them titled a little differently from the title with which I published them. I have an additional “tag” on the title. The tag is “Love ’em or Lose ’em.” For example, eight weeks ago the post was called “Are we there yet?” In my notes, it’s called “Love ’em or Lose ’em – Are We There Yet?” That tag comes from the title of a book I really like called, Love ’em or Lose ’em: Getting Good People to Stay by Sharon Jordan-Evans and Beverly Kaye.

The book is about what the authors learned from their research into what causes talented people to stay with an organization rather than decide to leave. Guess what? Simply put, It’s the relationship they have with their direct manager, their boss. That’s what I’ve been writing about, “How to be the best Boss your people will ever have.”

The Last Eight

Here are the last eight posts in order from oldest to most recent along with a single word describing what each post is about:

Are We There Yet? – is about Patience
I See You. – is about Kindness
Where Credit is Due. – is about Humility
Not Just Another Lady. – is about Respectfulness
More than Just Me. – is about Selflessness
Don’t Drink the Poison. – is about Forgiveness
TBH. – is about Honesty
Flipflops. – is about Commitment

I mentioned in several of the posts that one of the definitions, for example “Kindness – giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement,” came from James C. Hunter’s book, The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership. In his book, Hunter argues that each of these characteristics is essential to the character of true leadership.

Where Did That Come From?

Hunter got his list of character traits from another source. Patience and Kindness are straightforward. Humility combines three phrases from that source, “not envious, not boastful, not proud.” Respectfulness is his way of rephrasing “not rude.” Selflessness interprets “not self-seeking,” while Forgiveness covers “not easily angered” and “keeps no record of wrongs.” Honesty is his way of rephrasing, “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Finally Commitment takes in the largest number of phrases from the source, “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, never fails.”

Do you recognize the source? This is a quote from the New Testament, specifically 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. You may have heard it read at weddings. First Corinthinas 13 is commonly referred to in literature and among Christians as “The Love Chapter.”

That’s the tie-in with Love ’em or Lose ’em. Now, people sometimes get squeamish when you talk about love in the workplace. But, when you read the list above, do you see anything there to be squeamish about? No? Who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that? Check out this post and see how Southwest Airlines thinks about love.

Love is like the belt that holds all the other Engager Dynamics together. It’s caring about the other person beyond what they can do for you. You care about them as a person. That’s the strongest connector I know.

Flip Flops

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This time I’m not talking about the casual shoes for the beach. I’m talking about the term politicians use to accuse their opponents of being wishy washy on issues. “So-and-so is a flip-flopper,” they say. “Last year he held this position. Now he wants you to believe he’s on your side.” Have you ever heard that? Of course you have. As I write this post, the 2020 Presidential race is gearing up so we’re in for lots of this and more.

Can’t I Change My Mind?

Several years ago, the leader of an organization I was working with decided to change a policy that impacted how work was done for the entire organization. Not everyone was happy about it but that’s to be expected. People don’t generally embrace change with enthusiasm at first. After a few weeks of preparation for the the implementation, the leader changed his mind. He sent out a communication explaining that he had received additional information that caused him to re-think his decision. That new information led him to believe the change would not bring about what he had hoped to accomplish with the new policy, so he changed his mind.

The people in that organization were happy they didn’t have to change the way they did things. Beyond that, though, their respect for the leader grew. In that situation they didn’t see him as a “flip flopper,” they saw him as a transparent, thoughtful leader who was humble enough to acknowledge he was wrong in light of new information. The trick is not doing this very often. You don’t want to get mired in analysis paralysis. A leader most often needs to make a decision with no better than an 80% solution. That’s usually enough, though, because things change once you start down the path and you have to course correct along the way to reach the goal. But, make sure your 80% is solid information.

Commitment

What’s at stake here is confidence. People want leaders who are committed to something and stick with it. Commitment inspires employee confidence in the leader, the organization, the future. The difference between the leader who changed his mind and a flip-flopper is the perception of motive. The flip-flopping politician, for example, seems to be changing their position based on whatever direction the wind of public opinion is blowing. The people perceive it as self-serving and manipulative. The leader who changed his mind, on the other hand, is perceived as having the best interests of the organization and it’s people at heart. It’s easy to see how one inspires confidence while the other does the opposite.

In a piece of ancient poetry, the biblical psalmists asks God essentially “Who is righteous?” The answer includes the following statement, “… [the one] who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change his mind.” (Psalm 15) James C. Hunter, in his book on leadership, defines “commitment” as “sticking to your choices.” Organizations thrive when leaders make informed choices and stick to them.

Don’t Drink The Poison

I’ve been around for a few years and, like most people, I’ve had my share of disappointments. I’m talking about the kind of disappointments that come from someone else making a decision or doing something that negatively impacted me. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing. Whether the harm is personal or professional, the emotional response is usually the same. You go through a grief process. That’s normal. What is, unfortunately, too common, though, is that people often get stuck in resentment after being wronged.

Resentment

Resentment is “bitter indignation or anger at being treated unfairly.” Anger is one of the stages of grief. When we are treated unfairly or wronged, we lose something. It could be our job, an opportunity, our comfort, our sense of dignity or worth. We can lose many things at the hands of others. It’s the sense of loss that we respond to with grief.

Anger is like a match. When you strike it, it flares and burns for a few moments then it goes out. Resentment is what happens when you use that match to lite a charcoal fire. The flame settles into smoldering coals that burn hot for a long time. The problem with that smoldering fire is that it consumes the coals and leaves them in ashes.

Another metaphor for resentment is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. When someone wrongs us we often want them to pay for what they’ve done. Somehow we believe our resentment will exact payment. The joke’s on us! They go on their merry way, oblivious to our suffering, while we whither inside.

The Antidote

The antidote to the poison of resentment is forgiveness. James C. Hunter, in his book on Leadership, defines forgiveness as “giving up resentment when wronged.” Sounds simple. It’s not. He doesn’t mean giving up in the sense of raising a white flag of surrender. He means letting the resentment go because you realize it’s only hurting you.

Don’t misunderstand. Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing what the other person did. If they were wrong it doesn’t matter why they were wrong. It doesn’t mean saying what they did was OK. Wrong is wrong and if they harmed you they shouldn’t have done it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean just forgetting about what they did. No. There are lessons to be learned through the process. Besides, I don’t have one of those “Men in Black ‘flashy things’,” do you? (it’s a movie reference). And, the problem with sweeping it under the rug is that you usually trip over the bump in the rug at some point.

When someone does something wrong, justice demands a payment. They owe you. Forgiveness is canceling that debt. When you forgive, you realize you are going to live with the consequences of what that person did no matter what. Your choice is how you will live the them. Will you whither inside while resentment poisons your life? Or, will you thrive because you have released yourself from the expectation of receiving payment?

What do I know?

Several years ago, a gentleman got himself onto the board of an organization I was serving for what seemed like the sole purpose of torpedoing my work. He was successful. The board asked for my resignation. It was a confusing, dark time for my family. Many others in the organization were also confused and some felt hurt by our departure. Shortly after we left, he resigned from the board and left the organization, too. Strange.

Even now, when I think about it, I’m confused about what happened and I feel a twinge of pain wondering how things might have been different if I had continued in that role. Those are some of the consequences I live with but I’m thriving because I released myself from any expectation of payment even in the form of answers about why. I’ve also learned the truth of the song lyric, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

If I can do it, so can you. Whom do you need to forgive?

More than Just Me

Here’s a story from China.

A curious man once asked to visit heaven and hell. Expecting hell to be a terrible, frightening place, he was amazed to find people seated around a lovely banquet table. The table was piled high with every delicious thing one could possibly want. The man thought, Perhaps hell is not so bad after all. Looking closely, however, he noticed that everyone at the table was miserable. They were starving, because, although there was a mountain of food before them, they had been given three-foot-long chopsticks. There was no way to carry the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks, and so no one could eat a bite.

The man was then taken to heaven. To his surprise, he found the exact same situation as he had seen in hell. People were gathered around a banquet table piled with food. All the diners held a pair of three-foot-long chopsticks in their hands. But here in heaven, everyone was happily eating the delicious food, for the residents of heaven were using their extra-long chopsticks to feed one another.

Enough said!

I See You

I got a new shirt several months ago. One morning while I was getting ready for the day, I put on my new shirt. My daughter was getting ready for school at the same time. She came out of her bathroom and saw me in my new shirt for the first time. Apparently she liked it because she said, “New shirt? Ooh, I see you, Dad!” I don’t remember hearing that expression too many times before, but it made me feel good and I’ve thought about it since.

Am I Invisible?

I’ve mentioned before that we lived in China for a couple years . . . along with 1.3 billion other people! That’s a lot of people. And, we saw a lot of mom’s carrying babies during that time. My wife loves children (and elderly people, we saw a lot of them, too). One of the first Chinese phrases she wanted to learn was how to say “What a cute baby!” She said that to as many moms as she could. At first she said it just because it was true. But, when she noticed the reaction of the moms, she had another reason to make that comment. Every time she said that to a mom, it was like the mom was amazed that this lady had noticed her child, and she seemed so appreciative.

Suzi (my wife) began to wonder if all those moms felt invisible in the huge throngs of people that were always present. When you looked out over a crowd there it was a homogeneous looking sea of black haired people pressed together. Calling out a mom by saying she had a cute baby seemed to make her feel like she wasn’t invisible, like she mattered. Suzi was on a mission to make sure moms knew they mattered. It was like she was saying, “I see you.”

Light ’em Up

A healthcare client of mine employed a hospitality customer service technique called the 10-5 rule. Ever heard of it? It says that if you are approaching a guest in the corridor or outside the business and they are 10 feet away from you, make eye contact and offer a warm smile to acknowledge the guest. If they come within 5 feet, a sincere greeting should accompany the smile.

Try that and watch what happens. I’ve seen, time and again, people approaching me who had on shall we say “resting business face” light up like a child watching the fireworks at Disney World when I greeted them with a simple “hello.” It’s amazing how a simple but sincere greeting can transform a person’s countenance.

What’s It All About?

These are examples of simple acts of kindness. A brief but powerful definition of Kindness is “giving attention, appreciation, and encouragement.”

Giving attention is simply saying, “I see you” to someone who may feel invisible. Notice the people around you. Take a moment to acknowledge them. Hold the door for someone. Smile and say, “hello.” Offer to help someone who is struggling.

Appreciation means “to enjoy the good qualities of someone or something.” It also means “a full understanding of a situation.” Either meaning works for kindness. It’s telling the Chinese mom her baby is cute. It’s saying, “What a delicious meal!” Or, “Good job. Your report was spot on.” It could be, “I realize what a difficult situation this must be for you.” It could even be as simple as, “Thank you.” Don’t you like to be appreciated?

I was recently talking with a client who mentioned what a good job one of his subordinates was doing. The person was three levels lower in their hierarchy. I ran into that person later the same day and told him what is boss had said. He was so grateful to hear that. He must have thanked me three or four times.

Encouragement means, “the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.” It also means, “persuasion to do or to continue something.” Finally, it means, “the act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief.” You can see how any of these uses of Encouragement would be an act of kindness for someone who needed hope or needed to press on or to believe in a better tomorrow.

So What?

There are a million reasons to be kind. Here are two. First, you could save a life. There are many stories about how an act of kindness saved someone. Check out this one for example. The lyrics to this song show how our words have the power to hurt or to Speak Life into someone. Our words and actions are powerful. Use them for good.

A second reason to be kind is that kindness is a boomerang. When you put it out there, it often finds its way back to you through someone else. This reason may sound a bit selfish but in reality, the boomerang effect of kindness often involves a multiplication effect as well. The kindness not only returns to you, but it also gets payed forward by the person to whom you showed it. So go ahead and be selfish.

We never know what the people around us at work, in the neighborhood, at the store, may be facing at any given time. Your one act or word of kindness could make all the difference in the world to them. Find someone and show them some kindness today!

The Three Stone Cutters

I’m sure you’ve heard the story. It was way back in the days when building stones were cut by hand. One day a manager wanted to see how stone cutting operations were going so he went out into the quarry to observe. As he watched, he noticed three different stone cutters. They were all working but they were working differently. One was steady and methodical. He looked like he would reach his quota, but not a bit more. He took a few shortcuts the manager didn’t like but they didn’t effect the overall quality of his work which was passable.

The manager saw another who seemed equally methodical only he didn’t cut corners. This stone cutter looked like he would meet his quota as well so he was working a little harder than the first. He checked his work to be sure it met quality standards so it was at least as good as the first stone cutter’s work.

Then there was the third. This one was different. He whistled while he worked. He didn’t seem to be working any harder than the others but he was already almost at his quota. As the manager watched longer, he noticed that this stone cutter had found a way to improve his output by the way he arranged the stones he was cutting. And his quality was superior to the others.

The Question

The manager was curious. What made the difference in the way each of these stone cutters worked? So he decided to ask each one of them the same simple question, “What are you doing?”

He approached the first stone cutter and asked him, “What are you doing?” The guy looked at him like he was crazy and said, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m cutting rocks.”

He approached the second stone cutter and asked him the same question. This one simply replied, “I’m earning a living for my family.”

Finally, he came to the third stone cutter. The manager was curious to see how this one would answer the question, so he asked, “What are you doing?” The stone cutter looked up with a beaming smile and said, “I’m building a cathedral!”

The Point

All jobs have mundane tasks that we don’t necessarily enjoy but we have to do because it’s part of the job. Most organizations have jobs that may seem mundane, like cutting rocks, but are necessary to the success of the organization, like building cathedrals.

The ability to link the most mundane seeming tasks to the overall objective of the organization is key to seeing the best results. Some people, like the third stone cutter, can do that for themselves. Most people, though, need help from their manager. That’s why the ability to inspire people is such a critical dynamic for bosses.

What is your organization all about? Saving Lives? Feeding the World? Putting a ding in the universe? What is the inspirational mission or vision of your organization? If your organization doesn’t have one, find a way to frame your purpose into something bigger and more important than any one individual. Then, help your people connect to that and you will inspire them. Transcendent Purpose is what Dan Pink calls one of the three intrinsic motivators; those things that motivate us from inside which are the most powerful of all motivators.

Happy Anniversary!


It was one year ago today that I launched this blog. My first post went up on Sunday, April 15, 2018 and was titled “Star Performance.” Since then I have posted weekly, publishing every Monday. Although it’s been exactly one year, this is actually the 59th post because I published a few mid-week thoughts in addition to the weekly posts.

This blog has been primarily about elements of Employee Engagement. A few months ago I added a page to the website called “Posts by Category.” The categories listed are:

  1. Engager Dynamics
  2. Habit Formation
  3. Listening
  4. Words

That last one, “words,” may sound a bit strange, but I call myself a word nerd because I enjoy diving into the definitions of terms as a way of better understanding what I or someone else is talking or writing about. A few of the mid-week posts have been about words that have made a powerful impact on my thinking.

Engager Dynamics

These posts are specifically about those things “bosses” do that cause their people to give their discretionary talent and energy to the work. They are identified by a single verb, like “Expect,” then the post expands on what it means to set expectations. I’ve organized these “dynamics” into those that Challenge and those that Connect with people.

Habit Formation

So much of what we do is out of habit. That includes many of the ways we interact with each other. These posts revisit each of the Engager Dynamics from the perspective of how to make them your habit. The first in this series introduces habit formation under the title “How Does a Klutz Become a Dancer?

Listening

Arguably one of the most important and most underutilized skills in the human interaction skill set, listening is the focus of the next series of posts. I call it “The Super Power You Didn’t Know You Have.” Super Power listening allows you to see the world through other people’s eyes. That’s so cool, and cool things happen in relationships when you can do that.

Words

I mentioned this series above but, to elaborate a bit, I posted a few “Word Nerd Alerts” by themselves. I’ve included in this category other posts that have word definitions as part of the content within that post. What can I say, I’m a nerd.

A Request

On the “Home” page of the blog website (www.engagerdynamics.com) I wrote,

“Welcome to Engager Dynamics.com! Thank you for visiting. We are having a conversation about what I call “Engager Dynamics. We are looking at Employee Engagement from a little different perspective.”

I would love for this to be a conversation, so I invite you to leave comments on any of the posts. Let me know if you agree, disagree, have additional thoughts, or suggestions on topics. I know we’re busy. If you don’t have time to leave a comment, would you let me know if you’ve read any of the other posts in a comment to this one? Thank you!

Serving as a Leader

I used to work for a large company based in the Chicago area. There was a statue outside their corporate headquarters’ front door. The title of the statue was “Servant Leadership.” It was a modern style depiction of Jesus washing his disciple Peter’s feet. It wasn’t the one pictured here, it was a sleek all-white marble statue and it made a statement to anyone who walked through the front door.

Once inside, the statement continued. Carved in a large marble wall in the main entryway were the publicly traded, multi-billion dollar corporation’s four corporate objectives. They were:

  1. To Honor God in All We Do
  2. To Help People Develop
  3. To Pursue Excellence
  4. To Grow Profitably

When you talked to people inside the organization, you learned they further understood their objectives as “Purpose Objectives” – Why we’re in business (To Honor God, To Help People Develop) and “Means Objectives” – How we stay in business to accomplish our purpose (Excellence and Sustainable growth). This company was about serving. It even had “Service” in it’s name. From the CEO all the way through their management academy, serving was the soul of the firm.

A Key to Serving as a Leader

In his 1970 seminal essay on “Servant Leadership” called “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf made the following observations:

One of our very able leaders recently was made the head of a large, important, and difficult-to-administer public institution. After a short time he realized that he was not happy with the way things were going. His approach to the problem was a bit unusual. For three months he stopped reading newspapers and listening to news broadcasts; and for this period he relied wholly on those he met in the course of his work to tell him what was going on. In three months his administrative problems were resolved. No miracles were wrought; but out of a sustained intentness of listening that was produced by this unusual decision, this able man learned and received the insights needed to set the right course. And he strengthened his team by so doing.

Why is there so little listening? What makes this example so exceptional? Part of it, I believe, with those who lead, is that the usual leader in the face of a difficulty tends to react by trying to find someone else on whom to pin the problem, rather than by automatically responding: “I have a problem. What is it? What can I do about my problem?” The sensible person who takes the latter course will probably react by listening, and somebody in the situation is likely to say what the problem is and what should be done about it. Or enough will be heard that there will be an intuitive insight that resolves it.

Turning the Key

The company I mentioned above emphasized listening to employees and listening to customers as keys to pursuing excellence and growing profitably. Robert Greenfleaf’s comments put listening at the heart of servant leadership.

Employees across companies around the world cite “poor communication” as a major issue in their organizations. With our modern communication-enhancing capabilities like text messaging, email, social media, and video conferencing, how can this be? Another answer to Greenleaf’s question, “Why is there so little listening?” may be because there is too much talking. You see, when everybody’s talking, nobody’s listening. We would do well to consider the proportion of our ears to mouth when we engage with others, and listen twice as much as we talk.

The leader Greenleaf refers to above was successful because of what he learned. He learned because he listened. When we’re talking, we’re not learning.