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The Give & Get of Listening

Over the years I have met with many leaders who are curious about how their workforce is doing.  What’s happening out there, what’s really going on?

An SVP I worked with for years disclosed “I feel disconnected from my team and the organization, it keeps me up at night, what can I do about it?”

I asked,  “How do you hear from your employees today?”   She said without pause, “I have an open door policy, when I started I told everyone they are welcome in any time.”

Fair enough I thought, open door policy – seems like a good place to start. I dug in with a follow up question, “Great – how much time do you spend with employees who stop into talk?”  There was a pause, and a long one at that, and she replied, “It hasn’t happened in awhile. If I’m being honest, I can’t remember the last time it happened.”  She added quickly, “Have you seen my calendar?  I am in back-to-back meetings all day, every day.”

Message received loud and clear. Often times we do not have the time to connect with and listen to employees as regularly as we’d like. Most of us are on the go from the time we spring from our beds until we land back in them. As a result it’s easy to lose touch with what is happening around us, to rely on what others report up or what we read in email.

One of the leadership traits that can be overlooked in a sea of competencies is listening.  Back to back meetings, travel, devices, and technology – while many technologies have created positive advances in how we do business, they have also created opportunity. If those opportunities are unchecked, the things that help us can also keep us from a good old-fashioned conversation, from truly listening.

“The Give”
Like any conversation there is a give and a get.  We provide information and receive information.  When leaders are truly listening they are giving time and attention and are typically getting a whole lot more in return.  

Disconnect to Connect
Face to face time, no devices no distractions.  Phone off, laptop closed – the glow of your device completely covered.

It is impossible to be present and listening when you are checking email, texting or physically reacting to the vibration of your phone.  Removing your technology reduces the potential for distraction.

Get Up and Get Out
Like it or not, your office may not just be the space you work in, it may also have a title – CEO, SVP, Director and that title is attached to the space.

Walking into the CEO’s office is not comfortable for everyone, no matter how welcoming you are or how bold and obvious your “open door policy” may be.

The fix is pretty simple – leave your office and get out on foot, go to where your teams are.

Time is limited and don’t let that get in your way.  Making time and space on your calendar for listening will help to ensure it remains a priority.

Questions not Statements
Ask employees “how are things going?” and “is there anything I can do to help you?” and listen to their response.

Stay in Check
Simply put, no talking over, no taking over.

More is More
Connect with employees at all levels of your organization.  Chances are your direct reports see you and hear from you regularly.

Listening to employees in all types of roles provides perspective on how the broader organization is doing.

“The Get”
When we give, we get.  Leaders who make time to listen also get a lot in return. They are actively building trust, gaining perspective, balancing their decision-making and building a more engaged culture.

As a leader it is nearly impossible to influence your teams unless and until they trust you.  When employees are heard and feel that you care enough to ask and listen, trust is built.

Better Information = Better Decisions
Listening allows you to you gain important information.  Understanding the challenges and the things that are going well helps contribute to better-informed decisions.

By listening to your employees and hearing about their experiences, you increase the amount and the quality of the data you have at your fingertips.

The more we listen to others, the more they will listen to us.

If employees feel like you have made an effort to get to know them, to understand their perspective, chances are they’ll likely be more open to listening to you.

Remember what you do is noticed and repeated throughout your organization.  What you do and how you do it is the biggest influence to building your culture.

If what keeps you up at night are questions like what’s happening out there, what’s really going on? Be proactive, create a plan and find ways to really listen.

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