The Super Power You Didn’t Know You Have

The other day one of my daughters asked me a random question. “What super power would you want to have, Dad?” I immediately thought of flying. I’ve always wanted to fly. How cool would it be to jump up and fly to wherever you wanted to go? So, without hesitation, I answered, “To fly!” She nodded, “Yeah, that would be cool!” she said, and moved on to ask the next unsuspecting family member.

Super Heroes have super powers they use to help people. They stop acts of terror, foil criminal plots, rescue people from danger and generally set things right. We love Super Heroes. But, after the movie is over or we’ve put down the book for the last time and returned to reality, we remember there’s no such thing as super heroes. There are no super powers that can fix the real problems we have at home, school, church or at work. Or, are there?

Do You Have a Super Power?

I would like to propose to you that we all have an underdeveloped super power. It may not make you faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but this power can transform your relationships, strengthen the effectiveness of your organization, and propel your business outcomes. This underdeveloped super power we all have is the power of listening. “Wait a minute!” you may object. “Super powers, by definition, are active. They DO something powerful. Listening is so . . . passive. You just sit there while someone else is talking.”

I think your objection has hit the nail on the head regarding why this powerful tool remains so underdeveloped. We misunderstand the nature of listening. In a Forbes online article entitled “Are You Using the Most Powerful Leadership Skill?”, consultant Erika Andersen rightly referred to listening as the “Clark Kent” of Leadership Skills.1  Because we see it as passive it seems mild mannered and . . . well . . . weak. That’s exactly what people thought of Clark Kent. Then he stepped into the phone booth!

But listening is powerful. Fortunately many people are waking up to the power of listening. Some have tried to overcome the objection to listening’s seemingly passive nature by talking about “Active Listening.” That’s helpful because listening is not something that happens to you (passive), it is something you do (active). Because it’s interpersonal, the power of listening is universally applicable. It will transform your business (inter departmental, intra-team, with customers and vendors), healthcare (Physicians and Nurses, Doctor and patient), church (boards, when conflict arises, visitors and new members), school (parents, teachers, administration, students), family, club . . . all of life because it transforms relationships.

Don’t Take My Word For It

Here’s what one contributor to Harvard Business Review’s HBR Blog Network observed:

My knowledge of corporate leaders’ 360-degree feedback indicates that one out of four of them has a listening deficit—the effects of which can paralyze cross-unit collaboration, sink careers, and if it’s the CEO with the deficit, derail the company.

For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. At its core, listening is connecting. Your ability to understand the true spirit of a message as it is intended to be communicated, and demonstrate your understanding, is paramount in forming connections and leading effectively. This is why, in 2010, General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.2

Listening, far from being passive, is powerful because it allows you to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now that sounds more like a super power! Imagine the advantages of knowing how your boss or co-worker or spouse or competitor sees and understands the world.

In my next few posts I will outline the case for the power of listening as a direct contributor to hard organizational outcomes, reveal the necessary heart of powerful listening, and give you some exercises to help develop your listening power.


1  Erika Andersen Founding Partner of Proteus International. A Forbes article called “Are you using the most powerful leadership skill?”
2  “The Discipline of Listening,” by Ram Charan. Harvard Business Review (HBR Blog Network). June 21, 2012

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