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Leadership Thought #467 – Leaders Should Listen More Than They Talk

Over the years I’ve noticed that it is inexperienced or mediocre leaders who feel like they have to dominate all conversations.  It’s almost as if what anyone else has to say has limited or no value and it is only their opinion that counts.  We’ve all been in meetings where there is that one person who simply will not be quiet and yield the floor to others.  They are also often prone to interrupting their colleagues before they can finish their thoughts and using obvious body language when the center of attention isn’t focused on them. This is bad enough when it is a peer but even worse when it is the actual leader of the group.  Nobody likes a “know it all.”

I have a colleague who is fond of saying that “most people are preparing to talk rather than listening.”  I must admit to catching myself in this mode more often than I would like.  You start to block out or only partially listen to what others are saying and wait for your chance to interject and share your thoughts on the topic at hand.  As a result you often miss important information, repeat what someone else has already said and de-motivate the other party to the conversation to continue engaging.  It is a vicious cycle and ultimately you end up providing a monologue to a disinterested audience.   When people check out on what you are saying as a leader, you are in trouble.

Leaders have the responsibility to foster rigorous debate and dialogue not inhibit it.  Your goal is to make the right decisions and come up with the best solutions.  The more people who participate in this process the better.  The only real way to do this is to ask good questions and listen intentionally to what other are saying.  You need to facilitate the conversation rather than just lead it.  No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  The loudest person in the room is rarely the most intelligent; they just crave attention.  In my experience, a major reason why businesses don’t grow is because the leader feels he/she has to have all the answers rather than building a team of competent professionals and leveraging the skills/experience of those around them.

When I was a kid my mom used to often say, “Less is more.”  It took me way too long to figure out what she meant.  It’s not about how much you say, but what you are actually saying.  And, if you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.   The best leaders I now pick their spots.  They do their best to take it all in and only contribute when they feel they can add value or need to move things along.  If you are thoughtful about when you speak, people tend to pay attention.  If your ego pushes you to dominate conversations, then don’t be surprised if you find leadership to be a lonely place and continued success a hard nut to crack.

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Leadership Thought #342 – Don’t Lose Your Personal Censor Button

As you grow as a leader and start to have some success it’s important that you not get too full of yourself and remain somewhat humble. This is especially true as you begin to do more public speaking.  While you certainly can, it’s not advisable to just say whatever is on your mind and believe you have all the answers.  I’m often amazed how many people forget this fact.   Otherwise smart people who have a lot to share with an audience kill their credibility with unwise or unnecessarily controversial statements.  You have to know when to use your personal censor button.

It is certainly okay to have strong beliefs, but be wary of speaking with a sense of certainty unless you have a strong set of facts to back up your case.  It’s also important to note that if your audience has any level of sophistication it will know that you can usually massage statistics to make your case.  As the saying goes, correlation doesn’t prove causation.  In addition, just because you’ve read a book or two on a subject doesn’t mean you are an expert especially if the author has a biased opinion to begin with.  People will ultimately see through thinly veiled arguments.  Being brash will get someone’s attention but it will also engender more increased personal scrutiny.

Two things tend to get speakers in trouble: speaking in sweeping generalizations and making unfounded personal criticisms. 

We all know that life can be complicated at times and situations and context matters.  To act like your experience or knowledge is applicable in all situations is a foolish position to take because more often than not there will always be exceptions or things you don’t know.   It’s okay to have an opinion, but position it as such not as a fact when it is not.    I wish many more leaders would use qualifying statements when making strong points.  There are very few things any of us could or should speak with certainty about.  For example, how can someone who isn’t a scientist debate the scientific merits of something without the proper training or knowledge to do so?  I also have great difficulty respecting someone who is intractable in their opinions and not open to alternative points of view.  A closed mind is not worth listening to…

I’ve never understood going out of your way to be personally critical of someone else in making your points to an audience.  You can certainly criticize positions you don’t agree with but stay focused on the issue not the person.  How can you ascribe motivations or fault the character of someone you don’t even know?  It’s amazing how quickly people rush to judgment on political candidates from either party without ever truly listening to what they have to say or doing even the most basic research on their past track record.  This has become an especially dangerous strategy these days as people take on more strident political and religious beliefs. 

You never win someone over by insulting them or a person they admire.  You also rarely elevate yourself long-term by diminishing others.  You only create further divisiveness and alienate as many people as you convert to your point of view.  This may sell books and media advertising, but it doesn’t promote progress or successfully address any real problems.  It just feeds your ego which probably should go on a diet anyway.  Be ever mindful of your censor button and USE it.

Leadership Thought #265 – Don’t Get Lost In Your Words

As a verbal person I don’t have issues with talking.  However, I do find myself rambling on at times and taking the long way around to making my point and/or connecting the dots.  I do my best to remember some advice I received from a mentor many years ago that when communicating with others in a professional setting “less is more.”   These days people have very short attention spans.  Most of us are literally bombarded with communication all day long.  It’s hard to keep everything straight and know when to pay attention. Sometimes it feels easier just block out whatever doesn’t resonate quickly.

Talented politicians and leaders realize this and have very clear and consistent talking points.  They don’t get lost in their words or stray off message.  Sadly, talent doesn’t always correlate with being right or thoughtful about an issue.  I’ve seem many people with the better intellectual or practical solution lose out to others who are more clear in their communication and better at relating to their audience.  Connecting with another person is a two way street; it isn’t a monologue.  You need to be able to read body language and appreciate when the other person’s interest starts to wane.  People literally make decisions in split seconds whether or not they are going to truly listen to you or tune you out.

When individuals are feeling overwhelmed or confused they want simplicity.  The more words you use the harder this becomes.  It’s not about proving how smart you are about a given topic, but instead ensuring that what you are communicating is registering.  I’ve seen quite a few speakers (myself included) lose track of their point when they get too verbose or abstract and then stumble trying to get back on track.  Not everything has to be simplified to appeal to the lowest common denominator, however if you want something to resonate you must balance being extemporaneous against being clear and focused in your communication.  Do your best not to get lost in your own words.

Leadership Thought #222 – Your Energy Level Matters

Leaders cannot be low energy people – it is that simple.  When you walk into a room the energy level should automatically pick-up.  When you meet someone who is low energy your own positive energy should be infectious.  Success at anything requires action.  You need to focus like a laser beam and plough forward despite the inevitable obstacles and distractions. When other people are saying “no” or this is too hard, you have to be able to say “yes” and encourage them on anyway.  As with everything you need to lead by example.

Years ago when I was an undergrad I had a banquet server job at a very prestigious concert hall.  I often had the good fortune of observing many famous and talented people in a public setting but also sometimes behind the scenes. It was amazing how different they were all from one another but they best ones all had one thing in common: being around them picked you up.  When they smiled others around them automatically smiled in response.  They intuitively knew what it meant to perform in front of an audience.  They looked people in the eye and made them feel important.  They stepped up to the plate and made the moment special.

Regardless of what you feel about his politics, it is undeniable that when Bill Clinton enters a room the energy level increases.  I was once at the other end of a large banquet hall and you could feel the environment change the moment he entered the room – it was quite powerful.  Obviously everyone is not Bill Clinton or holds an elite position in their field.  Some people are just blessed with special energy and ability.  However, each of us can pay more attention to our own energy levels and how we are affecting others.

Leaders don’t have the luxury of being down in front of their employees, partners or colleagues.   This is especially true when times are tough and it’s easy for people to focus on the negative.  To lead means to assume responsibility for driving something forward and rallying a group of people around a common purpose. You can’t do this if they aren’t attracted to your message and how you deliver it.   You can’t be a low energy messenger and expect a high energy response.  People need to want to follow you not just feel the need to follow you.

Daily Leadership Thought #62 – Your Vibe Matters

The vibe you create when you walk into a room matters.  You can either bring positive energy, negative energy, or no energy at all.  You can make people feel good about themselves and the work they are doing OR make them feel anxious, inadequate and afraid.  Leaders often have very little perception of the emotional wake they leave behind following their interactions (or lack thereof).   People will naturally look up to you and play close attention to your moods, mannerisms and overall attitude.  They believe they know who is in your favor and guess who is not and are constantly trying to figure out where they stand in this regard.  One of a leaders primary responsibilities is to create an environment where people thrive and good work gets done.   Never forget that you are always on stage and have an audience.  You set the tone and vibe and practically everything else just follows your lead.

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