Aug 11

CEOs Who Speak Loudest and Longest May Not Have Influence After All

This week I’m spending time at a 4 day intensive with other professional speakers, focused on the business side of speaking. There were so many gems of information and insight shared today, and it’s only day 1. One key idea which stood out for me was the importance of great communication.

Now this may seem like a flash of the blindingly obvious. But hear me out.

I’m not referring to the skills of speaking on a stage. I’m referring to the communication skills needed off stage.

You may have heard the saying that ‘every time you open your mouth to speak, you’re auditioning for leadership.’ This may be true. I believe what is equally true is, every time you close your mouth and listen, you are auditioning for leadership.

We’ve all experienced leaders who would rather listen to their own voices than to hear what we have to say. And it’s not a good experience.

Some of the most impressive and impactful leaders I have ever observed have been those who say very little. Leaders who listen first. Leaders who know that there is value in understanding other people’s perspectives. Leaders who know that they are not the expert in everything and can learn from the people around them. Leaders who appreciate the questions that other people ask. Not the leaders who suck all the air out of the room so that they can hear their own voices.

We all know that when we speak, we repeat what we know, and when we listen, we learn. And leaders need to always be learning. Being the person who speaks the most does not necessarily make you the most impactful. It does not mean that you are adding the most value.

Leaders with influence recognise the importance of listening and respecting others’ perspectives, and then adding value only when they have something of value to add. Contributing value at the right time when others are listening to them. They are listened to because they earned it. They have influence because they respect others’ right to share their own thoughts and ideas, and do not speak over them. They do not assume they as the leader always know best.

➥ They listen.
➥ They ask good questions.
➥ They learn from their teams.
➥ They lean on their people’s expertise.

Do not be the leader who needs to control the room with their voice, rather control it with your presence and listening. Then when you do speak, the impact can be profound.

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.’ 

Ernest Hemingway

What is also important here is that your people are feeling listened to.

Extensive research from the iOpener Institute, based in Oxford, UK, tells us that a positive mindset creates the opportunity for high performance. And the most highly correlated factor for developing a positive mindset is the feeling of being listened to. This means leaders can have a direct and deliberate impact on their people’s positive mindset, and therefore performance, by elevating their own listening. By creating the opportunity for your people to feel listened to. Be the leader who listens first.

Listen with your ears.

Listen with your eyes.

Listen with your heart.

So back to professional speakers. One of the most important things that a professional speaker must do is to listen to their client. To understand the brief.  To ask great questions, and then listen to the answers, so they are able to deliver what the client wants. To meet, and perhaps exceed, the client’s expectations for a great experience at their event.

Speaking on its own is not enough. It is listening that creates opportunity. If you are the leader, the CEO, remember that every time you open your mouth, you are auditioning for leadership. So, make it worthwhile, make it valuable. It will become even more so if before you speak, you listen.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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