“People forget sometimes that an important part of communication is listening, so that you understand where somebody else is coming from. Then you can adjust your leadership style a bit to them.”

Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force
The New York Times, October 23, 2016.

I agree. Totally.

Deborah Lee James says two important things:

  1. Listen so you understand
  2. Adjust your leadership style


Let’s first talk about listening.

Deborah Lee James is not the only manager who emphasizes listening. CEO’s of companies like Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, and MBNA America  emphasize the importance of listening over and over again:

“We’ve all heard the criticism “he talks too much”. When was the last time you heard someone criticized for listening too much?”

                           Norm Augustine, Former Chairman, Lockheed Martin

“Leadership has less to do with walking in front and leading the way than it does with listening to the needs of the people of the company and meeting them.”

                           Charles M. Cawley, Chairman and CEO, MBNA America

“I have found that the best two qualities a CEO can have are the ability to listen and assume the best motives in others”.

                           Jack M. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO, McDonalds

Listening is an art in itself. I work with a lot of my clients to help them become better listeners. If you work on listening on your own, keep the following in mind:

Listening is MORE than keeping your mouth closed. Otherwise, a dead body would be an excellent listener.

Listening is NOT the same as hearing. Listening involves attention; hearing does not. When you listen, attention kicks in.

Listening is an ACTIVE process. One thing that makes it active is shutting down that inner chatter; doing so increases your awareness.

Most humans are champions at pretending to be listening. It’s so easy to make the correct sounds (“hmm”, “interesting”, “yes dear”) and pretend that we are listening.

Let’s stop that. Let’s listen more. Let’s listen more to understand. Let’s listen more to adjust.

Adjusting Leadership Style

Deborah Lee James’ other point was adjusting your leadership style:

“Then you can adjust your leadership style a bit to them.”

Most supervisors and managers who are transitioning into being a leader need to move away from problem-solving. Developing the art of listening is crucial for those managers and supervisors. It is a great tool to turn a problem into a learning moment. Niki Leondakis, COO of Kimpton hotel group, describes this as

 “…learning to listen first when there’s a problem or a situation that needs to be addressed. Rather than sitting down with someone and telling them what’s wrong or what needs to be fixed, I ask how it came about and what’s happening here, and listen to the back story…I can turn it into a coaching moment…” New York Times June 13, 2010

Embracing the art of listening and adjusting how you lead. This is a preferred path for all leaders, junior or senior.

The Leadership Challenge For The Month of November:

Trim your talking down to the basics and embrace the art of listening.

Let me know how it’s going. Just hit reply.