Listen Deeply to Others
By knowing their constituents, listening to them, and taking their advice, leaders are able to give voice to their constituents’ feelings. They’re able to stand before others and say with assurance, “Here’s what I heard you say that you want for yourselves. Here’s how your
G E own needs and interests will be served by enlisting in a common
cause.” In a sense, leaders hold up a mirror and reflect back to their constituents what they say they most desire.
You need to strengthen your ability to hear what is important to others. The outlines of any vision do not appear from crystal ball gazing in the isolation of the upper levels of the organization’s strato- sphere. They originate from conversations with customers in the retail stores. They come from interactions with employees on the manufacturing floor, in the lab, or in the cafeteria. They’re heard in the hallways, in meetings, and in people’s homes.
The best leaders are great listeners. They listen carefully to what other people have to say and how they feel. They have to ask good (and often tough) questions, be open to ideas other than their own, and even lose arguments in favor of the common good. Through intense listening, leaders get a sense of what people want, what they value, and what they dream about. This sensitivity to others is no trivial skill. It is a truly precious human ability.16
Jacqueline Wong can testify to the power of listening deeply. Although she had received many individual achievement awards, when she was promoted to head up one of the teams at CFS, a private investment advisory firm, she realized that “team achieve- ments became what mattered.” Her personal-best leadership experi- ence of winning the company-wide Team of the Quarter award for outstanding sales performance, she said, “began with listening to the team and finding out what they most valued and wanted in their lives.”
I asked them to draw their dreams of their future. From those images, I was able to understand how I could align their goals with the team vision. One common vision was happiness and providing for our families. I merely had to build the link, and
this link led us from the team’s mission to their dreams in the long run. I inspired my team by explaining how the team goal would take them one step closer to their destination. By outperforming all the other teams, they would build the confidence they needed to continue in this commission-based investment-service business. Consequently, they would be able to provide a good standard of living for the people they loved. For my group, their self-motivation to reach the shared vision drove them to spectacular success in that quarter. We outperformed the first runner-up by 118 percent.
Jacqueline often sat with each team member not only to talk about progress but also to discover each person’s strengths and moti- vations. “Knowing what my team members valued,” she said, “helped me communicate with them in a common language.” For example, she learned from one team member about his parents’ pending retirement. She took that opportunity to tell her colleague how he would be able to significantly help his parents with their retirement fund by working hard on the project. In another instance, a team member was significantly underperforming. Jacqueline had a talk with her and found out that she was unsure of her ability to meet the objectives and therefore hadn’t really bought into the “same aspiration as the rest of the team.” Jacqueline started taking her along to some of her own business deals and showing her what was pos- sible. Other members of the team started doing this as well. After a while, Jacqueline said, this team member “bought into our team goal, and her performance improved dramatically; and by the end of the target period, in fact, she had the second-best performance on the team.” Through paying attention to what people told her, Jacqueline was able to identify opportunities for them and develop a winning mindset within the team.