By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP
An attribute of leadership that gets short shrift is listening. Far too often, leadership involves talking (communication is the 10th Absolute I wrote about last month). Leaders are on podiums giving speeches, on television or radio doing interviews, on e-mail writing and opining about their cause, their organization, their leadership. Rarely do we see pictures of a leader listening – and yet effective leaders focused on both listening and speaking. In fact, Burnison argues, the most effective leader will listen 80 percent of the time and talk just 20 percent. How else is a leader gathering information to set the vision of their organization, how else does a leader know what is going on in their environment? How else do coworkers and colleagues feel valued and part of a team? A leader must listen and yet we rarely prioritize “listening” time in our day-to-day activities.
We have all worked with leaders who do a lot of talking and a little listening. We don’t feel valued, we feel as if our contributions literally fall on “deaf ears.” We shut down, tune out, put our energy elsewhere. What a waste! A leader who listens is actively engaged in leading – gaining input to set their organization’s course, hearing both positive and negative opinions of their strategies and tactics. Listening and learning go hand and hand – we must listen to learn, and we must learn to lead. Listening takes courage – admitting that you might not have all the answers or the definitive opinion on an issue or topic but instead are open to hearing others, and integrating that information in to your own work as a leader.
In Burnison’s chapter on listening, he cites Winston Churchill who said: “[C]ourage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” As leaders, I urge us to be courageous listeners then – devote the time and energy to listening and learning from those with whom we work, partners, colleagues and, yes, even those with whom we disagree. It is through listening that we clarify and understand the needs and positions of others. As maternal and child health (MCH) leaders, we have begun to take seriously the challenge of listening to families and consumers involved in our work. Have you listened to the stories told by families served in your state? I am in constant awe of the stories family leaders share and the way that their lives shape strategies for AMCHP. If we didn’t listen to their stories, our work would be less effective and less useful to those we serve. Only through listening can we truly move our organizations forward – and lead.
This time of year it is hard to listen. There is so much “noise” all around us it can seem impossible to focus and devote oneself to listening. And yet we must do precisely that – take time to listen. Challenge yourself to actively listen. Let me know what you are hearing – I’m listening too!
[This is the tenth installment in a continuing series on The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to Amazon.com. AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.]