To Communicate Well, Listen First by Dean Brenner (C’91)

When we think about communication in the workplace, all too often we focus on the delivery part: what we will say, what our slides will look like and how loudly we should speak. All that’s important, but what about the other side?

Before we speak, we need to listen. And when we do speak, we need to make sure that our audience is listening to us. As with nearly every aspect of persuasive communication, there are a few key ways to improve your own listening and encourage it in your audience.

First, why is listening so important as an initial step in communication? Because it helps you understand your audience and, thus, tailor your message to their needs and concerns. By listening well — in other words, through active listening — we discover the best way to deliver the message we need our audience to hear.

As you seek to cultivate active listening, keep in mind three important ways to engage with what you are hearing:

Fully Engage: Put away your cell phone and shut down your email. Truly focus on what is happening in this conversation. Ask questions, and listen closely to the answers. Be a thoughtful listener.

Take Notes: For your listening to really pay off, you need to be able to remember what you’ve heard. A written log of a conversation is an invaluable resource as you move forward to analyze what you’ve learned.

Repeat Key Information: When the conversation is over, review what you’ve heard, whether by going over your notes, discussing the call with colleagues or writing up a synopsis memo.

Asking questions — and being open to the answer, whether it is what you want to hear or not — is an important part of this process. Preparing a few questions in advance can be helpful; that way, you can really listen to the answers rather than thinking about what you should ask next. And recognizing what Tony Salvador at Intel calls “listening bias” can help make you more receptive to new ideas and fresh insights and better align you with your audience.

Besides allowing you to gather important insights into your audience, the act of active listening demonstrates your respect for your audience. In our overcrowded, high-volume world, it is easy to forget that communication isn’t a one-way street. It’s not just about broadcasting our own opinions: It’s about exchanging ideas and learning from one another. By listening well, you show your commitment to a respectful exchange. And your audience will be more likely to return that respect to you.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation: What can you do to cultivate active listening in your audience? It’s more than just crafting a gripping message, although that certainly helps. Once you’ve set the tone by demonstrating your own active listening, how else can you set up your audience to hear what you want to say? Often, it’s very simple: Change the environment.

Consider your goal, and pick a meeting place accordingly: Do you want people to think creatively? Consider moving to a new space or making sure that everyone sits somewhere new. If you want the focus to be on your slide deck, try to set up the room so that you can engage with the audience easily while keeping your screen in easy eyeshot. Think about the space, the ambiance and how you want your audience to feel as you speak.

Gauge the energy level, and plan ahead: If you need to meet first thing in the morning or right after lunch, bring coffee. Be aware of when people’s energy is most likely to lag, and try to offset it with additions to the meeting. And bear this in mind as you craft your message: If people have heavy eyes, they might need more attention-grabbers within your presentation to stay alert.

Engage from the start: Think about sending a quick introduction to the audience, so they enter the room prepared to address your topic. Use a video, tell a compelling anecdote or offer a striking statistic. Show your audience that you understand what is interesting to them about your topic, and they’ll be more likely to keep listening.

As individuals and as organizations, the better we listen, the better we work. By cultivating empathy, curiosity and humility, we connect more quickly, more sincerely and more enduringly — and we communicate more clearly, more efficiently and more persuasively.

Dean (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com. 

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No One Leads All the Time: 7 Characteristics of Good Followership by Dean Brenner

At The Latimer Group, we often say, “No one leads all the time.” Part of being a good teammate – and a good leader – is knowing how to also be a good follower. True, followership isn’t always fun; it’s not always sexy. The credit often goes to the person in the lead. But good followership can have its own rewards since the best teams celebrate the successes of the whole group.

What makes a good follower? It’s not that complicated. The concepts are simple to understand but often complicated to execute. Why? Because a little something called “the ego” gets in the way.

But if we can manage the ego; embrace the fact that there is value to ourselves, our teammates, and our leaders; and be good teammates and followers; then we have a chance to do something great. So with all of this in mind, here are a few practices that will make you a great teammate and follower:

  1. Be part of the process. Strong followers are not just along for the ride. They contribute to the process. Strong leaders seek the input of others in their organization, and strong followers seek to contribute whenever possible and appropriate.
  2. Be open to ideas other than your own. Strong followers give input and contribute, but they also realize that good ideas can come from others, too. Listen to what others have to say. Listen with your ears and your mind.
  3. Disagree internally, support externally. Strong followers on good teams have a responsibility to raise their hand and speak up when they disagree with something. But strong followers always share that disagreement respectfully, logically, and internally within the team. Once a decision is made final, the strong follower supports it and does everything they can to make it work. Strong followers speak up and then “get on the bus” once the decision is made.
  4. Celebrate the performances of others. Strong followers enjoy and celebrate the successes of their teammates. Strong followers cheer for the people around them and love to see their teams succeed. The strong follower, just like the strong leader, thinks and speaks of “we” and rarely of “I.”
  5. Carry your own weight. Being a strong cheerleader is important, but to be a valuable member of a team, you must also do the legwork. Everyone loves to have a positive cheerleader on the team, but eventually, if that cheerleader does not actively contribute to the team’s success, the cheering starts to ring hollow.
  6. Don’t run for office. Strong followers do lots of things that may eventually make them a candidate for a leadership position, but strong followers don’t actively campaign to replace the current leadership. Strong followers do their job well, and they are ready when the time comes to step forward and assume a more prominent role on the team.
  7. Keep the “dirty laundry” within the team. This point is similar to #3, but is still worth a separate mention. Strong followers don’t publicly criticize a teammate or team leadership. They keep their issues within the team. Weak teams don’t.

Good luck.

Emotional Intelligence by Monica Thakrar (F’96)

Emotional Intelligence is such an important topic these days when it comes to leadership. The best leaders are of those with high emotional intelligence skills as that allows for a person to understand themselves, manage their own emotional state, understand others, and build strong healthy relationships with others. As people move up in leadership positions people skills and the ability to focus on developing, guiding, and influencing people becomes the essence of what is required for success. So what are the skills for emotional intelligence. Using the EQ-I 2.0 model the five major components of emotional intelligence are:

1. Self-Perception: understanding and awareness of your own emotions
2. Self-Expression: expressing your emotions
3. Interpersonal: developing and maintaining relationships
4. Decision Making: using emotions to make better decisions
5. Stress Management: coping with stress and other challenges

So how can you build up your emotional intelligence?

1. Know what emotional state that you are in – how often do you know what you are feeling? Are you in tune with your own emotions and understand how they are impacting you? Take an inventory every so often about how you are feeling.

2. Develop your capacity to manage your emotions – sometimes emotions can rule us. Have you ever gotten road rage or got upset at a boss/coworker who didn’t do something the “right way?” Imagine being able to take a breath and control the emotions prior to making a decision, acting out with people, and/or speaking up in a meeting. By taking a pause, breathing, and controlling your emotions first you can take the next step in a more centered way.

3. Develop more organizational awareness – once centered you can begin to understand what might be going on for other people. Noticing how other people are feeling, when they are upset, or how to understand when they might need to vent is a critical piece of emotional intelligence. Begin to expand your awareness by noticing their body language, expressions, and/or tones of voice can be a good way to enhance your own organizational awareness. Emotional intelligence can be developed. As leaders from Georgetown University (whether is a leader in your organization, community group, or home) it is important to develop the people skills necessary to develop and influence people in your lives for relationship success is the key to your success.

Improving Our Responsiveness to Our People — John Keyser

Recently, I read an article about the key communication qualities of an effective leader. The article spoke about the importance of asking questions and being an attentive listener. I certainly agree. Yet, the article failed to mention responsiveness, which is certainly a very key quality as well.

If we are to help our team members feel appreciated, valued and heard, we must try to respond to their calls and emails and other forms of communication promptly. In my assessments of leadership and organizational culture, I often hear “My boss does not get back to me. He must not feel I am important and what I need or think matters.”

(Personal note: in my experience, women tend to put a higher priority on their responsiveness and how their team members feel about themselves than do men).

People all too often tell me that they have to follow up two or three times before their boss responds or maybe he never does. That lowers morale, organizational culture, and negatively affects our results over time. No question about that. Happy employees do better work.

When discussing the results of the assessments, the senior executives tell me “I know. I do get back to my people when I am able, but they need to understand that I am very busy.”

This is not acceptable. Everyone is very busy. We all have too many meetings to attend and a constant flow of emails and information coming at us.

When we receive an email or voice message and we cannot reply in a timely manner, we often can at least respond “I am very busy, and will get back to you first chance or in the morning.” This dignifies our team member, let’s them know we respect her/him and want to be there for her/him.

Yes, we are crazy busy. Too busy! Many of the meetings are simply scheduled automatically and way ahead and are not really necessary. Many of the meetings are inefficient and run too long.

Let’s do something about this! Ask our people how we can have fewer and more efficient and productive meetings. We must save time – our own and our people’s time.

And let’s develop a customized plan to manage our emails. The most effective leaders are efficient and have boundaries to maximize their productivity.

Delegate responsibilities and authority to free ourselves up to be more effective leaders. Conversations are the work of a leader. We want to have conversations, especially one-on-one conversations, throughout our day – letting our people know they are appreciated and valued, asking them for their ideas and advice, what they are learning from our clients, what they need, how can we help them, what we feel should be our priorities going forward, and other purposeful questions.

Let’s make our New Year’s resolution be freeing ourselves up so we can be out of our offices and meetings, having more time to walk the halls, and having more time for conversations with our people, and let’s make sure our other senior executives and middle managers also make their responsiveness a priority, as well. And the same goes for our home office being promptly responsive to those in the field.

Cathy Becker, an insightful and caring human resource professional, says “Leadership is how we help people feel about themselves.”

Timely responsiveness to questions, requests and needs definitely helps our people know that we care very much about them and that they and their work is important.

To learn more about the author and Founder of Common Sense Leadership John Keyser, visit commonsenseleadership.com. This article was published on Common Sense Leadership and is used with the author’s permission. 

The Job of a Leader is to Develop Other Leaders by GUAA Career Coaching Partner Larry Center (L’74)

We have all witnessed numerous types of leaders: “hoarders” , “ostriches” and
“farmers.”  It is farmers who ultimately get the real job of leadership
accomplished.

“Hoarders” hoard people in their departments or offices. When they identify
excellent employees or potential leaders, their first question is: “How can I keep
this person here as long as possible?” They focus on their own immediate needs
and want to keep these potential leaders in the their place. Their strategic
question is “how can this help me?”  I remember how I used to see leadership
this way. I wanted to look good, and saw excellent employees as vehicles to
reflect on myself to peers and supervisors.

Hoarders can be good managers; frequently, they know how to delegate well,
they know how to utilize people’s skills, and they know how to get things done.
However, hoarders are usually not interested in developing the skills and
aptitudes of their best employees or in shaping these people to be future leaders.
They tend to view career development by their subordinates as a threat to their
own success, an obstacle to their own personal agenda, or as a hurdle to the
long-term smooth functioning of their domain. Hoarders are not interested in the
career development of staff members. They reason that such growth means they
will move on to other departments within the organization or positions at other
organizations.

“Ostriches” are not smart enough to hoard their people. I remember moments in
my leadership journey when I lacked self-confidence and I functioned in self-
protective mode. I would keep my head in the sand. Ostriches don’t have the
depth of vision to think about the development of their staff. They articulate the
mission of their office and expect all staff members to contribute to the fulfillment
of that mission and the accomplishment of departmental goals and objectives.
Employees exist to serve the department. If they leave, they can be replaced. If
they are interested in professional development or the cultivation of particular
skills, ostriches may not stand in their way. However they will never sit down with
employees and delve into their professional aspirations, asking how they can
assist them in reaching their goals. The development of new leaders among the
staff is simply not an issue on ostriches’ radar screens.

The third group of leaders, the “farmers,” are different. These leaders grow
people. People farmers maintain as a primary objective the development and
success of their team members. In order to fulfill this role, people farmers plant
the right individuals by engaging in a thorough, careful hiring process. They know
that the hiring of any employee is a two-way street. There must be a match not
just for the employer seeking to fill the position, but for the job applicant as well.
Once these team members are hired, the people farmers nurture and cultivate
them. Instead of fearing losing their employees, they actually help them articulate their personal goals and career visions.  Then they develop methods for helping employees work towards those goals. In fact, the people farmers do everything they can to match people’s career aspirations with their job responsibilities, even if it means re-writing job descriptions, as long as such re-writing benefits the entire operation. People farmers know that their role is to put team members in positions to succeed, not to fail.

They provide all employees, new and experienced, with the necessary
ingredients to do their jobs well: desired results, guidelines, resources,
accountability measures and consequences. They collaborate with all employees
they supervise on the development of annual goals, including the identification of
skills to be gained or improved upon or the knowledge to be learned. People
farmers talk the talk and walk the walk – they role model what they want to teach
their employees. They also seek help from their employees, admit their own
mistakes, teaching that vulnerability and humility are strengths, and thus
empowering their mentees to contribute and shine. They empower people to own
their issues and to bring forward solutions.

Farmers lead confidently through seasons, patiently feeding, pruning, tying,
untying, planting, waiting, and harvesting. With sufficient nurturing and cultivation, these farmers experience the true joy of leadership: the development of their team members into new leaders. They also know how to let go. They expect to let go. On the day their people are ready to “leave the farm” and take on bigger responsibilities elsewhere, these farmers celebrate with them because they realize that these employees’ successes are their successes as well.

In all my years of leadership experience, I have very few regrets. One major one
is this: I wish I would have listened to my “inner farmer” earlier and followed the
calling. Hoarding people or burying my head in the sand may have helped me at
the time, but these were leadership strategies based upon a lack of self-
awareness and wisdom. For decades now, I have been focused on cultivating
people, and have seen leaders sprout and grow into majestic trees in whose
shade many, including I, I have found new strength and re-discovered the joy of
authentic leadership.