With a broad smile, the executive director said, “I’ve decided to do something to improve my nonprofit. I’m getting hearing aids.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, not at the issue of her hearing loss but at the powerful metaphor about leadership and management: you need to be able to hear. Once you can hear, you can listen.
Consider the things that prevent you from hearing, thus inhibiting possibilities of listening.
“It’s all about me.” One of the biggest impediments to hearing is the often unintentional mindset that you are the number one concern, priority, issue, challenge or opportunity. That simply isn’t the case. People often don’t intend to be that way, but their focus is so keenly set on themselves and their own goals that they can’t even hear what others are saying. This attitude also can make leaders and managers nearly deaf to the goals, aspirations, ambitions, challenges, concerns, fears and hopes of their team members, and that is a huge loss.
“My business comes first.” This attitude can take many forms. Does business come before family? Think of all the wonderful things you aren’t hearing if that is the case. Does your business come before the businesses of your customers, vendors or partners? There will be no mutually beneficial successes in that case.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry.” Being in too much of a hurry to listen is like racing through a forest instead of walking slowly to pick up the sights, sounds and sends of all that a forest can offer. You can use all your senses if you are in a constant “hurry” mode or hurried state of mind. Slow down so you can sense. You, your team and your organization will be richer for it.
Consider the many things that keep you from hearing. Remove those impediments and then enrich your life and business by listening. Listen to …
Team members: Listen to the goals, dreams, concerns and candor of those on your team. Give them “permission” and a safe environment to share these things. Listen. Act. A few years ago, I asked each member of my team to share with me in a private, confidential conversation what their ambitions were so that I could hopefully modify their roles, assignments, etc., to help them accomplish their ambitions. On the other side of the coin, I shared my ambitions and concerns with a boss and his response was to invite me to resubmit my document without those comments. Listen. Acknowledge. Respond. Act.
Customers: Everyone on your team can, and should, be involved with listening to customers. Listen to their stories and their complaints; those may reveal needs that your organization can fill. Listen to their challenges and their achievements; those may provide opportunities for congratulatory cards or testimonials (if your organization or business had something to do with the achievement). Listen to them as people, not always only as “customers.”
Vendors: These businesses that provide your organization with important products and services can also be your champions and ambassadors, and often as partners to success. Listen to what they say about their business, their suppliers and their industry. You can learn a lot about opportunities for collaboration upstream of your vendors as well as with them.
Community: You will find important information about your community by listening for it and asking for it. Include community discussions in your networking activities. Watch the media for stories and news related to your community. You can gather some information by social media, but the best way to learn and show concern for your community is to be present to it. You and your team members can gather information – and information reveals opportunity – about your community through networking, service and activities.
I’m happy for the exec who is getting hearing aids. Everyone I know who has gotten them have said that they forgot how much of life and living they had been missing out on, and they comment on how happy those around them are for getting them, easing the challenges and frustrations of conversation and interaction. And so it is when it comes to hearing as a manager and leader, literally and figuratively.