Listening and Leadership

Some things in life are inherently inversely correlated.

Listening and leadership is one pair that is top of mind for me.

My life experience has been that a majority of leaders are like me, always in selling mode. Influencing. Persuading. Trying to progress their agenda. And this ain’t done by closing your mouth and listening to others. You’ve got ideas, and others need to hear them—right now.

But before you go off the rails, listen for a moment (ironic, huh?!).

I think this comes from a well-intended place for many of us. Certain leaders, like me, often process their thoughts verbally. We think out loud to hear how logical, or illogical, our ideas and strategies sound. To ourselves and others. We don’t always believe what we’re saying in the moment, because the idea is still in incubation mode. We’re testing constantly. Like using the light switch inside an oven, so you can take a peek without the souffle falling because the door opens.

Now our alter egos think we’re gadflies because their style is much more deliberative. They possess, to some of us, unrecognizable verbal restraint and choose to process internally and are thus viewed as better listeners. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. Maybe a person who seems to be a great listener might simply be someone with strong impulse control. Or worse, maybe they’re a total void of creativity and just have nothing noteworthy to offer.

Here’s the point: understanding your motive is key to understanding your communication (and listening) style.

I’m known to many as an exceptionally creative person (with a clear shortage of humility), but I’m also known to those same people as an exceptionally poor listener. My mind is brimming with ideas. Solutions. Alternatives. To quote Marie Forleo, “Everything is figureoutable.” That was my life’s mantra long before her bestselling book (which I highly recommend).

I’m always in problem-solving mode, even before I fully understand the problem. Call my therapist for the root cause, but it’s both my greatest strength and my biggest weakness. Call on Scott to solve any issue. Seriously anything. But be cautious, because he might also solve the wrong issue—making it an even bigger issue before he “solved” it.

For those leaders who can relate or who work with someone like me—as my father wrote to my third-grade teacher when he signed my report card, “God bless you.” Thanks a lot for that affirming comment, Pops! (I can still visualize my father’s handwriting forty-five years later, so parents and leaders, be careful about what you say and write.)

You may need to pre-forgive our technique while focusing more on our intent. Our desire is to help. Solve. Fix. We want to be seen as value adders, not distractions. As I coached a member of my own team last week, “If you’re not being invited to meetings, ask yourself why. It’s likely because when the participant list is brainstormed, the leader does a quick roll call in their head and asks themselves, ‘Will inviting them make this meeting easier or more difficult?’ Regardless of your value, if your communication style and maturity around listening is the latter, it’s likely why you’re not being invited.”

Build your brand as someone who makes meetings and calls easier, not harder.

That may mean different behaviors with different people in different meetings. Become more self-aware by putting away all your metaphorical tools, and practice fully understanding the issues by separating tactics and strategies. Resist the impulse to do what you do best—processing your genius out loud. Process it internally instead, so when you’re 110% (not 100%, but 110%) convinced your idea is a winner, you can create rare drop-the-mic moments for your own brand.

So to all my fellow problem solvers, sellers, and persuaders, don’t stop.

This is your value. We need you (plus I adore you), and put some metaphorical tape on your mouth or snap your wrist with a rubber band whenever you’re convinced your genius idea is the ultimate game-changer.

As with all things in life, timing is nearly everything.

And bread and cheese—that’s currently my everything. Plus champagne. And shelled pistachios. Did you know you can buy shelled pistachios? I just discovered this wondrous gift.