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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.

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.

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