As an executive, you rely on information from your colleagues to stay informed and make decisions. But, is the information you hear what you “need to hear” or what others might “want you to hear.” Elevating your executive listening skills is more than understanding what’s “right;” it’s also about creating practices and activities to recognize what might be “wrong.” When you know where to act, it leads to doing a better job at being an executive. Consider the following ways to listen for what you need to hear.
Intentionally seek participation. Walk the halls, visit the branches, hold town hall meetings, and connect with project teams. Yes, it takes up a lot of time; but, it is a fundamental part of the job as leader. Remind your colleagues about strategy; help them understand their daily roles in strategic progress; and, listen for tactical suggestions that help reinforce or refine the operating approaches in place.
Flatten your listening org chart. Order is a necessary evil of managing complexity. Often, colleagues “down the org chart” might be overwhelmed by titles and positions. Enough. Respect each of your colleagues by giving permission to point out what’s working and what’s not. Better yet, begin the practice of asking about the status of operations and ideas for improvement. You will be surprised at the influx of proposals generated once colleagues witness consistency and action.
Listen without urgent reaction, opinion, or a plan. It takes discipline – straightforward restraint – to draw people into a conversation. It requires that you listen to understand and commit to delaying your assessment. It asks that you wait on a response and process what the other person is saying. When you are not busy figuring out your answer (a sign of having an agenda), you won’t overpower the process. Good, new, and necessary information will be the result for later use in a decision.
Give permission to share bad news. Establish a policy – even formalize it in a frame – to not keep problems to oneself. Holding back necessary information only generates more difficulties. As an executive, you always need the full picture, even if the information isn’t ideal. The correct information allows you to react and allocate faster, improving your ability to execute under many circumstances.
Recognize improvement, even if the finish line is far away. As you lead projects and teams, take time to identify steps of success. This allows you and your colleagues to celebrate progress, but also openly discuss potential challenges at the next phase of execution. When you reflect on achievement, you can ponder change that has occurred and be more ready for the immediate future. And, mark the subsequent accomplishments along the way, too.
Listening, and leadership, is a multi-faceted practice. It must be centered, responsive, and organized. And, it makes you a trustworthy executive. You recognize opportunity, see initial indications of risk, and unite a team around a common course of action. It starts by asking your colleagues to continually relay information that you need to hear and expands as you act on knowledge that delivers results all want to achieve.