Lend Them Your Ears: You Must Listen to Those You Lead #28

Warwick Fairfax

July 21, 2020

Listening is one of the most necessary, and least practiced, leadership skills in business and life today. And lest you think lack of listening is a new phenomenon, brought on by the last few decades of tech advances that have created tech distractions, think again. Harvard Business Review found in 1957 that people remember only about half of what they hear, even when they’re trying really hard to dial in. In this episode, BEYOND THE CRUCIBLE host and Crucible Leadership founder Warwick Fairfax explains why great leaders listen — and how they can do it better to get past crucible moments and avoid additional ones. One of the critical keys, he tells co-host Gary Schneeberger, is asking good questions of your team to gather information from them that can help enhance your vision and, just as important, signal to them clearly that you’re not just paying “ear service” to the insights they’re sharing with you. “The price of engagement from your team,” Fairfax notes, “is listening.”

Highlights

 

  • A quote about the importance of listening and leading from an upcoming book (1:32)
  • Just getting things done is not sufficient for a leader (3:19)
  • Listening can be the antidote to failure for a leader (4:58)
  • Why leaders must always be learners (7:31)
  • The risks to your team and company if you don’t listen (10:22)
  • Why listening is key to making your vision a reality (12:34)
  • The one thing visionary leaders hate (15:26)
  • Great quotes about listening (20:11)
  • One of the worst things you can do when someone is speaking (22:18)
  • The importance of “knowledge-acquisition mode” (22:46)
  • Even if you think your vision is like Michelangelo’s statue of David, do this (26:05)
  • How listening is a decision of the will (27:25)
  • Ways to become a better listener (28:39)
  • Ask questions of all members of your team — not just the senior members (34:27)
  • One of the chief reasons listening is hard and you must practice it (36:30)
  • Key takeaways from the episode (39:20)

Transcript

Gary S:
Welcome, everybody, to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Gary Schneeberger, the co-host of the podcast and the Communications Director for Crucible Leadership. You have clicked play. We hope that you’ve pushed the little button that says record on a podcast that deals in painful experiences that we have in life that we call crucible experiences. They are those things that can happen to us. They can be sometimes caused by us. They can be professional, personal, sometimes both. Many times both. But what they all have in common is that they’re things that knock the wind out of us. They’re things that can knock us off the trajectory of our lives and make us feel like we’ve lost our way. Our purpose in talking about them is to help us move beyond them, hence the name of the show, Beyond the Crucible.

Gary S:
We don’t talk about crucible experiences here so that we can wallow in them. We talk about them so that we can move beyond them. Helping us do that, as always, is the architect of Crucible Leadership, and that is Warwick Fairfax. Warwick, we have a pretty interesting conversation, I think, I hope, I pray, on tap today for listeners.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, Gary. Looking forward to it.

Gary S:
We are going to be speaking today, listener, about a topic that should be near and dear to your hearts because you’re listeners to our podcast, and that subject is listening. Listening and leading. In particular, how listening impacts leading. I want to get our conversation kicked off by reading a quote about listening in a leadership context from a book that I’ve recently read. Here’s the quote, just to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about. Then when I’m finished with the quote, we’ll let Warwick take it from there and we’ll start our conversation.

Gary S:
But the quote is this: “Good listening allows leaders to hear ideas that will make their visions better and their plans to implement those visions more likely to succeed. Good listening allows leaders to learn of potential pitfalls and roadblocks that enable them to cast their vision in ways that increase the likelihood of success.” Before I turn it over to you, Warwick, to begin the discussion, do you have any idea who wrote that?

Warwick F:
Well, I was going to guess Stephen Covey, but I’m not sure.

Gary S:
It’s not Stephen Covey. It is, in fact, Warwick Fairfax.

Warwick F:
No. What?

Gary S:
That, listener, that is just a teaser of the book that Warwick is publishing that will be out early next year, sometime next year, that is called Crucible Leadership, and it talks about some of these very subjects that we talk about on this podcast. So I fooled him there. He didn’t know I was going to read that. But that’s a good sign, Warwick, that when you write about something, when you hear it, it surprises you that you wrote it. So that’s a good sign. If it helps you, it’ll absolutely help the folks who buy the book.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Well, I probably shouldn’t disagree with that, right, if I wrote it.

Gary S:
Absolutely. It’s a good jumping off point for a conversation about the importance of listening as it pertains to the practice of leadership.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. Great leaders listen. Listening is an absolutely critical component of leading. But it’s interesting, often the people that get promoted to be leaders, they’re not often promoted because they listen. They’re promoted because they get stuff done. They’re action men, action women. It’s like their listening time is just to get stuff done. You want leaders who get things done. You don’t want philosophy professors or people who are contemplative. I tend to be more contemplative and reflective myself, but ultimately leaders get stuff done. So that’s good, but sometimes in getting things done they feel like they know what they want to do, they know where they want to go, they tell the team, “OK, let’s go.” So the thought of listening, it’s like, “Look, I don’t have time to listen. We’ve got to get stuff done here. Let’s stop twiddling our thumbs. Let’s go. Let’s start the engines. Let’s hit 60 in 2.3 seconds. Let’s go.”

Gary S:
I think listeners probably can relate to that. I think they’ve worked in situations where there have been bosses like that, where they’ve maybe felt steamrolled sometimes by ideas that the boss has. The boss doesn’t necessarily listened. Whether that’s in work in a large corporation, if it’s in even a group setting that you’re in, if you’re in the PTA or if you’re in some organization like that. There are people who are at the head of organizations or associations or even just friendship groups who sometimes do less listening than they probably should and certainly less listening than is valuable. So one of our organizing principles as we talked about what we’re going to talk about is just helping establish for listeners, Warwick, why is listening so critical for leaders?

Warwick F:
Really, the price of engagement is listening. If you want to succeed, if you want to accomplish your goals, you will listen. If you want to fail, and most leaders don’t like to fail, if you want to fail in achieving your objectives, then don’t listen. So there really isn’t any choice to effective leadership but to listen. I’ve heard it said often, people don’t necessarily have to feel like everything they say gets to be part of the solution. They have to feel heard. If people feel truly heard, they’ll be willing to accept a direction even if it wasn’t maybe one they chose to go to because they feel like the leader heard them. And that’s really the most important thing. So if you want your team to be committed to your vision, you’ve got to be willing to listen to them. And really listen.

Warwick F:
I mean, we live in a society today where people prize authenticity. They want you to be real. If you’ve gone to a bunch of seminars and you go through the motions and say, “Aha. Yeah, I hear you. Interesting. Hmm. Thank you,” but nothing happens, people can spot that a mile away. They can tell if you’re listening or not. You can’t fake it and make it. You will fake it and fail. So if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to really do it, not just pretend. Pretending doesn’t work.

Gary S:
Right. All of us have heard the phrase, “So and so is paying lip service to something.” You can’t pay ear service to something, either. You can’t fake it until you make it, as you say. You can’t fake your way through it. And it’s interesting, for our conversation I pulled an article from Fast Company magazine of a couple years ago, and it has 6 Ways to Become a Better Leader. One of the things that they talked about was this very thing. In fact, Fast Company’s number one way to become a better listener was, “Listen to learn, not to be polite.”

Gary S:
It’s not just about hoodwinking people into thinking that you’re hearing them. It’s not just about being for the appearances of it. You really want to learn something. Whether or not, as you said Warwick, whether of not after you’ve heard what they’ve said, you heed what they’ve said. You’ve got to make it clear to them that you really value their input.

Warwick F:
That is so true. I mean, really, leaders are learners. Leaders are curious. I don’t care how successful you are or how bright or how many achievements you’ve made, leaders typically are successful and they’ve achieved a lot and they’re driven. They don’t get to where they are without that. But you can never assume you are the font of all wisdom and you have nothing to learn from anybody, from any of your team, from any book, any person, any human that’s ever lived. I mean, that is gross arrogance and more than arrogance, it’s just stupidity and it’s wrong. If you’ve hired a good team and if you have any sense, you will. If you’ve hired a bunch of yes-men and yes-women, then that’s a whole other problem. But assuming you’ve hired people of intelligence and ability, they collectively will know things that you will not.

Warwick F:
You add up the sum of all those components, and that is a powerful amount of knowledge and wisdom and energy and drive, perhaps more than even you have. So why would you not want to listen to your team that undoubtedly will make your ideas better? That’s what great leaders do. They listen to their team because… Another facet, if you’re head of some company, you might have somebody in sales, in manufacturing or marketing, and each of those people are subject-matter experts in their area. You as a leader will know something, but you’re not dealing with customers every day. You’re not dealing with front-line workers and machinery every day. They will have information, expertise and learning that you don’t, and collectively that’s an enormous amount of understanding. So it just makes sense to listen to their perspectives because it may give your information and insight that you don’t have. Not listening to your team, it makes no sense at all.

Gary S:
One of the aspects of what you just said, playing off from that, Warwick, is that if you over time do not listen to your team, to those experts, to those folks who are on your team because they have skills and talents and abilities and perspectives that will help you achieve your vision and achieve your mission, if you don’t pay attention to that, if you don’t listen, over time that will degrade their desire to share with you. The very thing that they have that they can offer, if a leader’s not listening, they can learn to be quiet. We’ve all seen it. Hopefully not all of us have experienced it, but we’ve all seen it in meetings. If a leader doesn’t listen, people don’t feel comfortable sharing. If the people you have on your team who are there because of their expertise and their talents don’t share, that doesn’t give you a chance to listen and it can lower your chances of success.

Warwick F:
Absolutely, Gary. Certainly if you’ve got good people on your team, they’re people that can work elsewhere. Good people, highly valued. If you don’t listen, what’s going to happen is, in our mobile job market or at least before COVID, obviously, it was pretty mobile and not quite as mobile now maybe, but in general the labor market is mobile, they’ll leave. In fact, good leadership, people who listen, it’s not really that common, unfortunately, which we’ll talk about in a bit why that’s so. But because of that, people enter the workforce, enter your company, enter your organization somewhat skeptical. They won’t assume you want to listen. They will assume you may not. So even if you ask them, “Hey, we’re about the launch this initiative, I’d love people’s opinions,” you might hear crickets.

Warwick F:
You’re actually going to have to work. It’s a bit like fishing. You’re going to have to throw that line out a few times. You’re almost guilty until proven innocent in the area of listening just because it’s so rare. So you’re going to have to work hard. Now once you’ve earned people’s trust over the months and over the years, people will share. But it’s like a starter engine. You got to crank it a bit for that to happen. So if you have a few times where you’ve just gone ahead like a bull in a china shop and not listening, that’ll take a while to undo because it’s back to what they expect.

Warwick F:
Bosses don’t listen. So you’re not starting from a level playing field. You’re starting from a position where they’ll assume you probably won’t listen, even before they even know you. So then you’ve got to work at it and convince them that you really care and that you really want to listen.

Gary S:
Yeah. It’s tenuous, too. That connection is tenuous, as you pointed out. Just one time. It only takes one time to not listen, to be the bull in the china shop, to go ahead and push through, where people will think, “Whoa, OK, my ideas aren’t appreciated.” You’re right, not feeling appreciated, not feeling heard, is one of the things that can lead people to walk out the door, and that can severely dampen your chances of getting your vision enacted and making it a reality.

Warwick F:
Just as we talk about making the vision reality, you don’t have to listen to everybody but you have to listen to somebody. One of the things that we say in Crucible Leadership, if could be 100 percent of your vision but it might get 0 percent buy-in. Well, it’s better if it’s 80 percent of your vision and 100 percent buy-in. One achieves a lot, the other achieves nothing. So leaders fear, “If I listen to my team, it’s not even going to be close to what my vision is. It’ll be some watered down monstrosity that’s not going to go anywhere.” That’s the fear. But if you’ve got a smart team, that won’t happen. Again, you don’t have to listen to everybody, but when they look at the final vision, they’ve got to be able to say, “That part of the vision, that idea, that was mine.”

Warwick F:
I think of one example from history. I think I read it in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, a fantastic book about Lincoln and his diverse cabinet, diverse in terms of politics and ideas. In his second inaugural address, in one of the most famous speeches in the English-speaking language in American history, he talks about “with malice towards none and charity towards all.” Lincoln could write a good speech. The Gettysburg Address. The guy knew how to write a speech and deliver it. Well, as reported in this book, he actually asked some of his senior cabinet, “Hey, I’ve got this draft but I’d love your input.” Now I don’t think we know exactly what happened, but you’ve got to assume that some of their input went into that speech.

Warwick F:
I don’t know that we know, was “malice” from one person and not the other, or “charity.” But can you imagine being his team? Lincoln, by this time we’re looking at the second inaugural in 1865. I mean, they knew him by then. The guy was amazing. It’s like, “He’s asking me for my opinion on the second inaugural. Oh. My gosh. Wow.” Well, if Lincoln can do it in an area where he was superbly good at, maybe the rest of us can listen to our team, too.

Gary S:
Right. And it’s another one of those situations, it only takes one time. Doing that one time. I mean, if that was the only time that the member of Lincoln’s team saw something that he said go into a speech that the president gave, I would imagine his descendants are still living off that, if he’s passed that story down. It only takes one time to build that confidence, build that camaraderie that allows a team to help your vision become reality. Because a vision not made reality isn’t worth much, except maybe telling old stories after. “I had this great vision once.” But a vision that becomes reality because there’s team buy-in, even if it’s only, as you said, 80 percent of your vision, that vision is one that can change the world and lead to a life of significance.

Warwick F:
If there’s one thing leaders hate and visionaries hate, is a vision unfulfilled, a vision not becoming reality. That should motivate leaders to listen because the alternative is failure. The alternative is not achieving success and your vision not becoming reality. The more you’re passionate about the vision that you have, the more that you should want to listen to your team. So that should, in theory, be motivating.

Gary S:
Right. So we’ve talked about why listening is so critical. Let’s turn the page and talk about why listening can be so difficult. Just to set the stage again for this part of the conversation, I found a Harvard Business Review article that talks about listening to people and it gives, in three paragraphs, a pretty good summary of why listening is hard and that listening is hard. That’s important. But here’s just a couple of paragraphs from this article, “Listening to People,” from the Harvard Business Review.

Gary S:
“It can be stated with practically no qualification that people in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening. For several years we have been testing the ability of people to understand and remember what they hear. At the University of Minnesota, we examined the listening ability of several thousand students and of hundreds of business and professional people. In each case, the person tested listened to short talks by faculty members and was examined for his grasp of the content. These extensive tests led us to this general conclusion.” Listener, hear this.

Gary S:
“Immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he has heard, no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.” The fascinating thing, Warwick and listeners, about this article, just in case you think a lack of listening and that listening being hard’s a new invention, this article from the Harvard Business Review was published in the September 1957 issue. This is a problem that has existed throughout the generations. 63 years ago, the science, the study were still around “how do we make people listen better?” And we’re still struggling with that today. Because listening is hard. Why is it hard, Warwick?

Warwick F:
This is going to sound a little simplistic. It’s because most people, they don’t want to listen. They don’t care. They’ve got big egos. And leaders tend to have big egos. You don’t get to be successful by saying, “Oh, it’s really not me, it’s my team.” I mean, it would be nice if a few more humble people became leaders, but yeah, it’s hard to listen. Even if you agree with the textbooks conceptually, if you don’t want to, if you don’t care. I think great leaders are curious. They want to learn. They want to listen. They want to know, understand people of different cultures and backgrounds. That’s what it takes to listen. You’ve got to really have this abiding desire to care, to learn. You’ve got to be humble, park your ego at the door and say, “Look, I might have ideas, but I’m not the font of all wisdom. There might be other ideas that are better than mine.”

Warwick F:
So really, it really is a matter of the heart. You do what you care about. If you care about something, it’s amazing how good a job you’ll do. Whether it’s at work or if you want to be a good baseball player or an artist, a painter, ballet, you name the activity that you’re passionate about, you will do really well — assuming you have some skill — because you care about it. Well, the same is true for listening. If you really care about it, you will be able to do it. That is the sad reality is, you’ve got to care. You’ve got to want to listen. You’ve got to believe that other people are valuable and have valuable opinions and are worthy in of themselves and are worthy of listening. It’s really a matter of the heart and the character. It’s sad but true.

Gary S:
I’m going to give a couple of quotes here and I promise you I’m not going to fool you with quotes from you this time. But here’s a couple quotes about just the difficulty of listening, why listening is so difficult. One is from Stephen Covey, who you thought the first quote was from, which you’re in good company when you’re saying things that Stephen Covey says as well. Stephen Covey said this about listening. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” A similar perspective came from someone I believe to be even wiser than Stephen Covey. My mother, Martha Schneeberger. When I was growing up, just barely in double digits, maybe right before mid double digits, my mom said to me, “Gary, a good ratio when you’re interacting with people is to listen twice as much as you talk. To limit your lips and let your ears rule the day.”

Gary S:
What’s fascinating to me about that, Warwick, is that in this article that I spoke about in Fast Company, about how to be a better listener, one of the things that they say in here is, “Pay attention to your talk-listen ratio.” That’s one of Fast Company’s pieces of advice, too. Mom was right. It says, “If you’re a note-taker during meetings or conversations…” This is fascinating, listener. Think about this. “If you’re a note-taker during meetings or conversations, try keeping track of how much you listen versus how much you talk,” says Fast Company. “Mark off a section of the paper and write down the names of all the people on the conference call or in the meeting. Whenever a person talks for more than a sentence or two, put a check mark by his or her name. This includes you, too, by the way. The visual representation of comparing listening to talking might hold some lessons for you.” I thought that was fascinating.

Warwick F:
That is such a good point. It reminds me of a story of when I joined a board a number of years ago. The board president told me and the other new board members, “Remember that you have two ears and one mouth.” That was his subtle way of saying that should be the ratio. When I’m on boards I tend to be pretty active in my opinions, so I have to say, yeah, I think I’m pretty reasonable at listening but that, I think, was a challenge for me. Yeah, I mean, it’s one of the worst things you can do is be listening to somebody and just be looking for an excuse or a way of inserting what you perceive is your wisdom. As you put it, it’s paying lip service to what’s being said.

Warwick F:
Because people can tell if you’re not really listening and you’re just looking to exposit on some of your perceived brilliance. They can just pick that. So one of the things that’s interesting to observe about new leaders is when they come into a new position, for the first few months they will listen. They will learn the culture before making any big changes, and I think you mentioned to me, you used to work in newspapers for many years. That’s one of the things you practiced.

Gary S:
Yeah. Absolutely. I would, if I took over a newsroom or I took over any team in any position I had, people who were not happy with the previous administration would always come to my office and say, “Well, what about this? And change that and do this.” I was always in knowledge-acquisition mode. I wanted to hear what was going on. I wanted to hear people say those things to me, but I needed to understand how things were run. I needed to understand how the people who ran them and how the people who carried out what was being done, how they felt about what was being done before I could change anything. To come in before you hear and observe how things are done and change how things are done, you’re operating from no place of knowledge.

Gary S:
So you can cast a vision, in Crucible Leadership language, you can cast a vision for how you want this department, this newspaper to run, but you’re not going to get buy-in if you’re basing it off just your first impressions. I think that’s one of the great things that listening does for us, is it helps us move off of first impressions or assumptions or prejudices or those pre-conceived notions or our own expertise, and allows us to have the wisdom in many counselors, as the Bible says. It allows us to have that and then act on that information to make that vision come to life.

Warwick F:
Absolutely. And that’s such a good example. Great leaders, whether they’re coming into a newsroom that they’re leading or an organization, they want to get all the information. What’s happening so far? What are the challenges? What are we doing well? Armed with all that information over the first few months, they’re in a far better position to make a determination about where the company or the newsroom needs to go. The people in the newsroom or the organization are much more likely to listen because you spent the first few months listening to them. You can say, “Well, I’ve heard A, B, and C from person X, Y and Z, and based on this, this is where I feel like we should be going.” People realize you’re listening, they realize you respect them, and you’ve got much greater chance of succeeding with enacting your vision. I mean, it sounds so simple and in a sense, it is. But just having that wisdom to listen first before you make a whole lot of changes, it’s such a good example.

Gary S:
Yeah, and it’s the kind of thing that leads back to what you were talking about, the enacting 100 percent of your vision or advancing 100 percent of your vision or sticking to your guns on your vision so strongly that you don’t even open up the floor to input, could leave you with a vision that’s stalled. As opposed to 80 percent of a vision is a pretty darn good percentage, right? If you have an 80 percent field goal percentage in basketball, you’re a pretty good shooter, right?

Warwick F:
Exactly. One of the things I mention in the book, Crucible Leadership, that will be coming out next year, the image I have which hopefully will help leaders who are really reluctant to do this. There’s a statue in Florence by Michelangelo. It’s called the statue of David. It’s one of the greatest sculptures ever made. I actually had the good fortune in 2018 of seeing it. It is amazing. So just imagine you think your vision is like the statue of David. It’s like perfection. You’ve got to be willing to give your team the hammer and chisel and make a few changes. If you think your vision is like the statue of David, emotionally, psychologically, that’s hard because they might desecrate perfection. I get why it’s hard. But you’ve got to realize, well, maybe your vision isn’t that good.

Warwick F:
I mean, not to burst people’s bubbles. Maybe it’s pretty good. Maybe it’s even great. But you know what? Maybe it could even be greater, and why would you want to settle for merely good when you could settle for great or fantastic? So it’s a decision of the will. It’s like you might say, “I don’t want to do this because they could desecrate perfection,” but you’ve got to proverbially give people the hammer and chisel and say, “Okay.” Your hand may be trembling as you give the hammer and chisel over. It’s like, “Oh boy, here we go.” Sweat may be pouring off your brow but you just go to do it. You got to make the leap and let them do it and you might find, much to your surprise, it’s even better. Really, listening, it’s a decision of the will. It’s a choice.

Warwick F:
Do you want to be successful or do you want to fail? Do you want your vision to be greater or do you want it to be lesser? Do you want your vision to happen at all or do you want to sit it in some dusty file cabinet gathering dust? I mean, the choices are pretty clear. If you want to be successful, if you want your vision to become reality, you will listen. You will make that choice even though it may not be what you want to do. Leadership is about choice. Choose the path of success rather than failure. Choose the path that will get your team on board and will stop the good people leaving. The bad people often don’t leave because they might feel like, well, they’ve nowhere else to go.

Warwick F:
The good people, they’ll leave in a heartbeat. They won’t put up with stupid stuff, and not listening is just really the height of stupidity. So for so many reasons, keeping your good team members on board, being successful, not failing, having your vision become reality. There’s so many reasons why listening just makes sense. You’ve got to get over yourself and over your ego and you’ve just go to do it.

Gary S:
That is an excellent time to turn around and talk about the last aspect of this, and that is how do you do it better? How do you become a better listener? I’m going to go back to the Fast Company article because there’s an example in here that they give that is really their third tip for becoming a better listener in a business context, is this: “Ask more questions. One of the simplest ways to be a better listener,” Fast Company writes, “is to ask more questions than you give answers. When you ask questions, you create a safe space for other people to give you an unvarnished truth.”

Gary S:
I want to say this to the listener, and it’s fair game, Warwick, because you on some podcast somewhere praised your team at Crucible Leadership, which includes the marketing folks at Signal, includes myself from ROAR, but I’m going to throw a little praise your way because you are excellent as a leader at asking questions. I want listeners to, as you listen to podcasts, go back to other podcasts and listen. You will hear Warwick say one of the most common phrases he’ll say in our business meetings, but also in the podcast when interviewing a guest. He’ll end a statement that he makes with the phrase, “Does that make sense?”

Gary S:
We get transcripts from the podcasts and if I type in, “Does that make sense” it will pop up five or six times. But that is one of the things that Warwick does very well, not to embarrass him as he’s said to us when he’s praised us in this podcast, not to embarrass him, but that is one of the chief ways. Ask questions. That’s fair. I’ve heard you say more than once, Warwick, that you’re not a take-charge Rupert Murdoch leader. You are a reflective adviser and you lead by asking questions.

Warwick F:
Thank you for that. I mean, it’s funny. I laugh in one sense at myself because, especially on the boards I’ve been on, sometimes I’ll try to make a point and I feel like, I don’t know, it’s like it doesn’t really get heard. But then I ask a question and it might be getting to the same point, and people will say, “Oh, good point.” It’s like, “What do you mean, good point? I just asked a question.” At least for me, I find asking questions a whole lot more effective. But you’re right, I mean, it starts with, you’ve got to care. If you don’t care, at least as a leader you want to be successful and have your vision become reality. So it requires discipline.

Warwick F:
Let’s say you’re meeting with your team. You want to ask them questions. “So how’s it going in your area?” You want to care about them as individuals. “How’s the family?” People are holistic people. They don’t just park their human selves at home. So you do want to care about them as individuals. But just ask how’s it going in their area, what do you need, what can I do to help, what are some of the challenges, do you have any ideas of how to solve those challenges. And be disciplined in the sense that don’t be too quick to offer solutions. In fact, it’s probably not helpful because sometimes one of your subordinates, one of your team members, may ask you, “So what do you think I should do? I’m not sure about this.” Basically give me the solution. A wise leader doesn’t take that bait.

Warwick F:
There’s a time and a place for help, but the first line of defense, if you will, should be, “Well, that’s a great question. I’d first like to hear what you think. What do you think? So you’re having this problem with a certain customer. What are the issues? What do you think you can do to solve it?” Be a good coach. Good leaders are good coaches. I’ve taken the odd coaching course and I’m an executive coach, certified, have done some, obviously, a lot of coaching courses. Be a coach. So really, I think often the best way to lead is by asking questions. If you’re a good leader and you’re experienced, and let’s make that assumption, you will ask good questions because you’ve been there. You’ve been in their shoes. Focus on asking good questions that help your team members find the answers themselves. That is part of the art of great leadership. Be a little slow to offer solutions to every question that comes up.

Warwick F:
I’m not saying never offer advice. More offer advice in terms of in principle how to solve problems rather than, “Oh, let me write a 10-page business plan that solves your problem in your area.” That is not really helping them.

Gary S:
Right. It also makes for, I’ll say this, it also makes for meetings and team discussions that are more robust. If you’ve got a leader in those meetings, going back to Fast Company’s thing, if you’re putting check marks by people who are saying more than two sentences at a time and the leader of the meeting has 17 check marks, people check out, right? People grab their phones. People start doing things and they’re not paying attention. The great thing about meetings that we have at Crucible Leadership, all virtual, but still there’s times when you will say at the end of a discussion of a topic, “Okay, Gary. Okay, Alex. Okay, Cheryl. Okay, people on the team, what do you think of that?”

Gary S:
It creates engagement on the team in the task at hand. That is critical for that whole idea of, it enhances your vision and floats all boats. If the leader has created the boundaries, you got to give people a crayon so they can color within those boundaries so that they can be part of the solution. Listening is critical to that. Asking questions. If you never know as a member of a meeting when the leader is going to ask you a question, you pay attention in that meeting.

Warwick F:
One of the things I really believe really and strongly, don’t just ask the senior vice presidents or the senior leaders of your team. You’ll have senior members and junior members, typically, in your team. All age groups, all levels of experience. Yeah, I mean, it’s easy to think, “Oh, let me ask somebody who’s got 20 years of experience at doing X.” One of the things I try to do is ask all people. Because A, it’s important for them to feel heard, but B, they might actually offer some thoughts that you weren’t expecting. So whether they’ve been there one year, two years, five years or whatever, you want to ask opinions of all the members of the team, not the ones with the PhDs and 30 years of experience.

Warwick F:
I mean, obviously that’s really valuable. But you want everybody to be heard, and it will often be surprising where some fantastic idea comes from. It often comes from places that you wouldn’t have expected. So, that’s really important, too. Don’t just listen to the people with the long pedigrees that have been there forever. That’s helpful. Got to listen to everybody. Everybody has to feel heard because you want everybody’s wisdom and you want everybody to be firing on all cylinders, all moving together. So that’s listening to everybody, not just the senior leaders is so important.

Gary S:
Right. In the same way that being followed as a leader because of your title is the least thing you want, you want people to follow you because of your character and because they identify with your leadership and they feel heard and all those things. Same thing. If you only, as a leader, ask questions or seek the opinions of those with the titles, you’re doing it wrong, too. It’s not going to lead to the best result. So the example you gave is a really good one.

Gary S:
We’ve come to that part of the show, Warwick, where it’s time to begin to land the plane, as I like to say. The captain’s turned on the “fasten seatbelt” sign. One last point, I guess, I want to make about listening and the fact that it’s hard and how to overcome it. One of the reasons it’s hard is that it’s just hard. Let’s go back to that Harvard Business School study of 63 years ago. Its conclusion was this: “Immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he’s heard, no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.”

Gary S:
Listening is hard because it’s hard. You really have to put effort into listening, and that’s been what we’ve talked about here. How do you put that effort into it? I think the best way, and I’d love to hear your opinion on this, the best way to get over the hardness of it, the best way to improve in it, is the same way that you improve in tennis: practice, practice, practice. Is that fair?

Warwick F:
It is. It’s like you say, well, riding a bike for the first time is hard. When you first start riding it when you’re a kid, you’re wobbling and doing circles all over the place. Well, as you practice more, it gets easier. The same is true of listening. I do believe that at the core of it, you got to care. You got to park your ego at the door. But even if you might have only just heard 50 percent of what they just said, it’s ask follow-up questions. “Person A, I heard you say A, B, and C. That was really interesting. Talk more about that. Now when you said this, I was a bit unclear of what you meant.”

Warwick F:
People don’t mind if you ask them, “Hey, can you talk about it more,? or, “I might have missed that point you made. Can you say that again?” They don’t mind if you’ve missed something if you ask, “Can you please repeat that, rephrase it, explain more?” It doesn’t really matter whether you’ve only heard 30, 40, 50 percent of what they said if you’re in a dialogue and you follow up with more questions because, by the end of it, you have a conversation with somebody for 10, 15, 20 minutes, you will remember the core things. If you want to do what good coaches do, there’s always the phrase “mirroring,” which is, “So you’ve mentioned a number of things, Paul, Sally. What I heard you say is these three things. Is that fair that these are the three most important things that you think that we should pay heed to?”

Warwick F:
They’ll either say, “Yes, well, that’s pretty close but…” At that point, they’re going to feel heard. If you can summarize the three most important things they’ve just said, and if you got it wrong, you got two, well, they’ll tell you. So it requires practice, but it also requires a bit of perseverance and a bit of conversation and you will remember the most important things if you have a dialogue with them and you ask more questions.

Gary S:
That is the perfect place for the landing gear to be down and the plane to be on the runway. Let me summarize what I think are three good takeaways, listener, from this episode about listening and leadership. One, the price of engagement of your team is listening. You can’t pay ear service to them. You have people on your team for their skills, for the talents, for their abilities. Listening lets you benefit from their expertise.

Gary S:
Second point. Leave your ego at the door. In fact, leave it behind the door. Don’t even bring it in the room. Be curious. Care. Want to learn. Be humble. You are not the font of all wisdom. But you can accumulate all wisdom by being an active and interested listener.

Gary S:
And then the third point, which we just finished up talking about here. Practice, practice, practice. Listening’s hard. It was hard 63 years ago when Harvard Business Review wrote this article. When it comes to truly hearing others, practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes less imperfect. And that is a jumping off point where you can start turning things around and you can start building better teams and building better leadership.

Gary S:
So thank you, listener, for listening to our podcast today talking about listening. Want you to know that Warwick sends emails out regularly with some of the very kinds of tidbits that we’ve discussed on the show today. You can go to crucibleleadership.com and you can sign up to receive those emails on a regular basis so that you’ll always be on the leading edge of the things that Warwick is discussing and discovering about crucibles and how to find your way through them, find your way beyond them as this podcast is called, Beyond the Crucible.

Gary S:
So until next time that we’re together, thank you for spending time with us and remember this as you’re sitting there right now in your car, in your home, listening to this. You might be in the middle of your crucible, but remember, that crucible experience is not the end of your story. In fact, it can be, if you learn the lessons of that crucible, you apply the lessons of that crucible, and you do indeed listen to those around you to help you move beyond that crucible, that experience can be the jumping off point to the greatest chapter in your life because that chapter will lead, in the end, to a life of significance.

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