There’s a lot of focus on the importance of Active Listening right now, and I agree that it is an essential part of being an effective leader.
Listening has a direct impact and correlation with people’s performance, that feeling of being listened to, of being valued, of being acknowledged, and having your great ideas heard. If you’re a leader and you take that away, if you don’t listen and you take away that gift, then you won’t find out what’s really going on. You lose out on valuable information. You not listening will have a direct impact on your people’s performance because you’re not perceived to care enough to even listen to them, and also on your performance because you don’t have all the information.
The Centre for Creative Leadership reports that almost 40% of new CEO’s fail in their role within 18 months, and many more don’t meet expectations. Failure to listen is one of the 5 key contributing factors.
As leaders, we have to work with a lot of information, and we work with our people. Listening is a great way to bring those two things together so that we can be more effective in our roles.
However, listening on its own is simply not enough.
If you tell, you repeat what you know. If you ask, you learn. You get to listen to what your people know. You find out how they feel and what they need.
I’ve worked with 1000’s of leaders, and what has been consistently surprising to them is what happens when they’ve changed the way that they ask questions and listen to their people. It’s had a direct impact on the amount of information that they have to work with in terms of their decision-making and understanding of their people. They’ve got a much more direct feel about the engagement of their team, what their strengths are, what’s working and what’s not working.
“If you do not know how to ask the right question, you discover nothing.”
William Edwards Deming
People will answer the question you ask. If you ask the wrong question you don’t get the information you want or need. You miss out on getting access to your team’s ideas, their input and their creativity.
You need to ask better questions, questions that lead to you learning something.
It’s like when you pick up your child from school and you ask them “How was school?” and often the answer will be ‘fine’ or ‘good’. If you’re like me, you get frustrated because you haven’t discovered anything important about their day and what they’ve been doing and learning. You might even give up and not ask anything else because of the limited response.
A better question to ask is something like, “What’s the most fun thing you did at school today?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you learned at school today?” You’ll get a lot more information, and find starting a conversation much easier.
It’s the same at work. We need to work smarter not harder as leaders, so give yourself access to great information so you can understand what’s going on. Ask better questions.
Yes great questions are open and generally begin with what, when, which, where, how, who. But they’re more than that, great questions are not general, they’re specific. What do you really want to know? That’s the question to ask.
Of course, then you need to listen to the answer.
Love to know your thoughts.
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