Leadership Update is a free electronic monthly newsletter. In it, you’ll find strategies for helping you realize your full professional potential.
- Quotable: The Pundits Speak
- Essentials of Leadership: The Art of Listening
- Professional Development: Soliciting Goals
- Readers’ Forum: Your Observations
- Subscription Information
QUOTABLE: THE PUNDITS SPEAK
“Communication is the soul of management: analysis and solid decisions translated into clear messages that influence people to act and feel good about their performance.”
– Dianna Booher in Communicate with Confidence!
“A young businessman had just started his own firm. He’d rented a beautiful office and had it furnished with antiques. Sitting there, he saw a man come into the outer office. Wishing to appear busy, the young businessman picked up with phone and started to pretend he had a big deal working. He threw huge figures around and made giant commitments. Finally he hung up and asked the visitor, ‘Can I help you?’ The man said, ‘Sure, I’ve come to install the phone!'”
– Milton Berle in Milton Berle’s Private Joke File.
ESSENTIALS OF LEADERSHIP: THE ART OF LISTENING
Identify the company’s vision. Motivate people to action. See and communicate reality. These are among the things that we expect great leaders to be able to do. But one of the more subtle skills essential to highly effective leadership is the ability to listen well.
In the June issue of Fast Company magazine, Ronald Heifetz, director of the Leadership Education Project at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, stresses something that’s been true since the very first time in human history that one person tried to get another to do something: good listening is essential to great leadership.
He cites well-known leaders like Herb Kelleher of Southwest airlines, who constantly solicits feedback from his employees and customers. This valuable feedback is used to both deliver services that customers value, and to strengthen the entire organization by capitalizing on its resources. The result is an organization so successful it’s become a model for how to run a business.
So, what are the keys to effective listening? First, you have to want to listen to what the other person is saying. Effective listeners actually begin with the attitude that they are going to get something useful (e.g. learn something new) from a conversation. Poor listeners, on the other hand, believe that the other person has very little to offer. And executives who begin a dialogue with that attitude usually get what they’re looking for … very little.
Second, effective listeners try to empathize with the speaker. They ask questions like “I wonder why Joe’s so upset right now?” or “It took a lot of courage for Jennifer to offer that feedback.” Ineffective listeners tend to evaluate or judge others instead of trying to see things from the other’s perspective.
Finally, patience is required to fully understand what the speaker is trying to communicate before you respond. Poor listeners tend to jump to conclusions and cut others off before they’ve finished speaking. Far more than just waiting for the other to pause, however, excellent listeners probe and clarify to make sure they understand the speaker’s point of view. Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, covers this quite well in the chapter entitled “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”
There’s also a “hidden” benefit to good listening, as it models for others how to listen well when you’re the one speaking. How good a listener are you? Many executives overestimate the quality of their listening skills, even when they’re trying hard to listen well. A multi-rater or 360° feedback can help identify areas in need of improvement.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: SOLICITING GOALS
As the labor pool continues to shrink, it’s imperative to keep the quality employees you already have. And studies have shown that one of the best strategies for retaining your best people is to create a professional development plan with each key employee.
A professional development plan is a set of goals established with the employee’s input that helps chart a course for the future. It includes the steps you and the employee both feel will be most effective at helping achieve those goals.
There are a few reasons why professional development plans aid retention. First, it demonstrates to employees that they are valued by the organization. Second, the goals focus employees’ day to day experience, bringing more meaning to the activities they perform on a regular basis. Also, creating and monitoring a professional development plan models planning and goal-setting, which is essential for running a business effectively.
Generally, there seems to be something innately motivating and organizing about goals. They reduce anxiety about the future, give a purpose to what we do, and allow us to measure our progress against something defined. Most importantly, they help foster the natural development that occurs as people move through life.
- There’s no magic number of goals that works best, but three to five is generally quite manageable.
- The time frame for the achievement of the goals can be any horizon you mutually agree upon, but ideally they should be achievable within six months to a year.
- Whatever the time frame, it’s recommended that you review progress toward goals on a regular basis, such as every three to six months.
For assistance in establishing professional development plans for your employees, contact me.
READERS’ FORUM: YOUR OBSERVATIONS
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