Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, wherever you are. Compliments of the season and my best wishes to you for the year ahead.
It gives me great pleasure today to introduce my new newsletter, “The Leader’s Coach…practices to help you lead even better!” As you probably have worked out, this newsletter is specifically for leaders, managers and those responsible for leadership development. This newsletter replaces my previous more generic newsletter, and my purpose is twofold:
- To provide leaders with background theory and some scientific research as well as share the experience of other leaders and my own on specific topics that I believe will be useful to you; and
- To provide practices that you will be able to integrate and experiment with daily in a way that will enable you to consistently lead even more effectively.
In this way, I hope you will gain great value from these newsletters. I also hope you will feel free to provide us with your comments below and accordingly contribute to the many conversations that I hope will be provoked by the contents of these newsletters. So, give today’s newsletter a chance, and hopefully a couple more, before you decide whether to stay on board (after all, it’s free) or unsubscribe.
Today’s topic is listening, perhaps the most underestimated of leadership skills. In today’s busy and stressful world, it is often difficult to stop – to make the time – to actually listen to others. Our heads are just so full of important stuff that we need to get ‘out there’. Yet listening to someone is probably the most valuable gift we can give anyone, both at home and at work. It allows others to feel you value not only what they have to say but that you value them as people too. Think about it: how do you feel when you’re listened to – and when you are not? Besides, there is invariably something in it for you too when you listen to others. Sometimes they have something valuable to offer to you – and even their most stupid or strange idea can act as a steppingstone or catalyst for you to build on and create something great!
The first distinction I came across in my early days of coaching was between listening to respond and listening for understanding. When we listen to respond we are listening in our heads – we are listening to our inner voice that is, invariably, judging what the other person is saying and preparing how we are going to respond. When we listen for understanding, however, we are listening in the other person’s head – we are trying to understand them, including (but not limited to) what they are saying, how they feel about what they are saying and what they might be leaving unsaid. As you may have noticed, listening for understanding is the way to go.
One of my favourite coaches is a guy called Michael Neill, and his podcast, “Caffeine for the Soul” happens also to be one of my favourite podcasts. A recent episode entitled “Little Fires and Loose Threads” is highly recommended. Essentially, he also talks about following loose threads in our questioning, those threads being given to us by our clients in their current narrative or even when that narrative starts to move forward. But it’s the “little fires” metaphor that was new to me – what he says is listen for client’s Aha! moments, moments when they have insights; and then pour petrol on them! Help client to develop those insights. I thought that was brilliant!
Since that realization, I have probably become really curious about the question, “But what do we actually listen for?” (as opposed to “to”). Way back in the 1970’s, Timothy Gallwey came up with useful formula: Performance = Potential minus Interference. Although he used this formula for coaching purposes, I believe it has equal application for leaders. My hunch though is that as leaders, we often listen (and look) out for interference in the people that we work with – and once we find their weakness, well, in our minds, it’s no wonder that they are not performing in the way we want them to! We often do this as parents too (after all, that is often our most important leadership role) as we unintentionally, and with the best of intentions, get into the habit of catching our children doing things wrong and forget to notice what they are doing right.
So, how do we catch our people doing things right? Well, my hypothesis is that, in addition to listening for understanding, we listen for the potential in what they have to say. In so doing, we can collaborate with them to build on that potential. An internationally renowned author and consultant, Peter Block, once said that we only start to lead when we enable others to create or develop their futures. Listening for potential enables us to do this.
In summary, then, I hope you will reflect on just how important listening could be for you as a person and in your role, and that you will experiment with the notion of listening for understanding and potential. To help you do so, use the attached resource, a practice focusing on listening for understanding and potential. Try it, not only at work but wherever you are – remember, every conversation is an opportunity to practise listening.
As this becomes second nature for you (i.e. your new habit), you will no doubt find leadership and collaborating less challenging and more effective.
Until next month