I know a TV General Manager, now retired, who during his career worked directly for three of the biggest group heads in the TV business at three different companies. All three are names most of the folks reading this would recognize.
One day, I asked him how the three top leaders were different. He said it was in the way they asked you a question.
Leader #1 asked you a question and then answered it himself before you could respond!!
Leader #2 asked you a question, listened to your answer, and then told you why your answer was wrong.
Leader #3 asked you a question and actually listened to your answer.
Which of those leaders are you more often like? How well do you REALLY listen?
I suspect many of us would confess that at different times we’ve been all three. I surely have. But there’s no question which leader people would enjoy working for the most, is there?
I have a friend who leads a medium-sized health insurance company. A year ago, we had lunch right after he returned from a comprehensive leadership training program. I asked him what his personal big take-away was from the session. His answer was incredibly thought-provoking. He said the big lesson he’d gotten was what the instructor called, “charismatic listening.” He explained that charismatic listening was fully engaged, completely open listening. Listening with intensity and openness. Listening with no agenda other than to totally hear what the other person is saying. (I guess I probably have to put my cell phone down to do that, eh?) I’m not sure I practice charismatic listening enough, but I surely aspire to be that way more often. My wife may be the best judge as to whether I’m improving!!!
I’ve only worked for one boss who listened really well. Early in my career I ran a station for a small broadcast group in New England, and Don Powers ran the group. He listened like the charismatic listening term describes, and I absolutely loved that man. Thinking about it today, his engaged listening was probably part of the reason I did.
I have run companies now for almost 40 years. I think one of the dangers of being a boss for a long time is that you start to think you know all the answers. Or, that you’re expected to!! That’s especially dangerous if you’ve been successful. I think it’s called hubris, which is another way of saying you think you know all the answers.
In a time of incredible change, I believe that thinking I know all the answers might just be a prescription for disaster. More than ever, I need to hear different ideas. I need to listen to different people, not just people who tell me what they think I want to hear.
I need to ask a million questions. I’m actually thinking about writing a book for salespeople called, “Ask a Million Questions.” The title comes from my belief that one of the single most important reasons for my success is that I have never stopped being curious about other business leaders, the companies they run, and how they think. By the way, in a 40-year career, only 500 questions per week becomes 1 million questions. So that’s a great goal!!
The old saying goes that we have two ears but only one mouth because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we talk. That’s advice we give to salespeople all the time. I think it’s also great advice for leaders.
Charismatic listening? I want to work on that!
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