Gini Dietrich

Shut Up: How Great Leaders Listen

By: Gini Dietrich | March 4, 2013 | 

Shut Up- How Great Leaders ListenLast week, Jon Stow wrote an interesting blog post called, “Communicating with Our Employees and Colleagues.”

In it, he talked about the importance of having conversations, not dictatorships, with the people on your team. Part of that discussion was the Yahoo! memo that was leaked to the media.

But the underlying message? You can’t just talk. You have to listen.

Some of the world’s very best leaders are incredible listeners. Bill Clinton, no matter how you feel about his politics, is a master at this.

Next time you see him interviewed, pay attention to how he listens. You’ll notice he listens very intently, his eyes on the interviewer. When the question is asked, he pauses, thinks for a moment, and then answers.

Though he likely knows what he’s going to be asked before the question is even out of the interviewer’s mouth, and you know he already knows how he’s going to answer, he never interrupts the interviewer or finishes the question before answering.

Do We Know How to Listen?

Now look around at the people you work with every day. Sit back in a staff meeting and watch. How many times do they interrupt one another? Do they let one another finish before speaking? Do they jump in and out of conversations with no respect for the other people at the table?

This happens with your friends, too. I know my friends do it. We get excited or passionate about a topic and all begin to talk on top of one another.

No one actually listens…but we all want to talk.

I met Randy Hall about five years ago. This is the second time I’ve worked with him on my own leadership skills. He’s my Phil Jackson. The first time, though, I wasn’t as experienced and wise and he pushed me really hard.

I remember one of our first coaching sessions. I had an HR issue I needed help working through. I presented it to him and waited, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, for him to tell me what to do.

He said, “What do you think?”

I remember thinking, “Well, if I knew what to think, I wouldn’t be asking you!”

So I stumbled my way through an answer. He said, “And why is that the way you’d handle it?”

Shoot, Randy. I don’t know! I’ve never done this before.

Great Leaders Listen

But what he did was not only force me to think through the issue before presenting it to him, he made me think about the best way to handle it…without telling me what to do. Sure, he’d guide me, but he’d never give me the answer.

It’s a habit I picked up from him. My team will tell you (likely they won’t be shy about saying so in the comments here) I do this to them all the time.

It’s super frustrating. I know it is. But rather than give them the answers, I’m listening to the problem and I’m empowering them to make the decisions.

It’s not easy on this side, either. Most of the time I’m presented with a challenge I know how to fix. It would be a lot easier and a lot less time-intense if I just said, “This is how you fix it. Now be on your way.”

But a leader that does not make. A scalable business that does not make. An empowered team that does not make.

The next time you’re presented with a challenge, I encourage you to listen. Really listen. And then ask the other person, “What do you think?”

I’ll be curious to hear what happens.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.


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