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Gini Dietrich

Shut Up: How Great Leaders Listen

By: Gini Dietrich | March 4, 2013 | 
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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.

177 comments
Gloria Miele PhD
Gloria Miele PhD

Great leaders are great coaches too, and what you're describing is solid coaching technique.  Nice post.  

ThomasJeffries3
ThomasJeffries3

@tedcoine @ginidietrich People have forgotten how to stop and listen. Look at how distracted people are. All walking down the street on Ph.

dbvickery
dbvickery

You just nailed my favorite type of leader: someone who actually listens and solicits feedback/ideas. Bonus points that they let you complete your thought before interrupting...even if they've already formulated a response before you finish speaking.

 

Listening is a high form of respect, and it is *always* appreciated. It is also an acquired skill by some - me included...I used to be terrible at finishing people's thoughts.

blfarris
blfarris

@ginidietrich I couldn't find your comment, but I liked the post and left you one anyway.

blfarris
blfarris

I find that "I don't know, what do you think?" is one of a leader's most powerful questions. It saves you a lot of work AND it enables you to gauge the judgment and skills of your team members in a safe environment where they can still use your experience to course correct.

 

That @4thGear he's a smart guy!

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

LOL Melanie! I've always been a good listener because I was so painfully shy for most of my life (obviously outgrew that). But the hard part is asking questions instead of giving answers.

seanmcginnis
seanmcginnis

@HollyKatko @ginidietrich Thanks for sharing Holly. Good morning!

anasebrahem
anasebrahem

@InaBansal good article :) "To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation."

Andrea T.H.W.
Andrea T.H.W.

Sometimes would-be-leaders are just like politicians, they are not at all interested in listening but only in "being the boss". Which is a pretty unwise way to do business because your team is involved and usually interested in having a healthy business so listening to them Toyota-style should be the first thing to do.

 

Unfortunately many are bosses but few are leaders. :)

 

 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Good stuff. I would add that it's important to do this across all levels, meaning if you are at the top of an org you should tune in to what's happening on the ground. People appreciate it, and you tend to learn some important things that way.

 

On that thinking thing - I'm reading Richard Feynman (well known physicist, Los Alamos project, liquid helium, etc...) and he tells this story about how he was such a whiz kid that grown-ups asked him to fix radios for them all the time. One guy had him over and Feynman stood there for a few minutes thinking over the warm-up process for the old radio tubes, and how the power worked. The guy asked him "Whatta ya standing there for? Why don't you fix it already?" to which he replied "I'm thinking!" After he handily solved the problem, the grateful customer declared to everyone he knew that "this kid fixes radios by thinking!"

 

Maybe a corollary to your post is that we have to be creative in our listening. Sometimes the radio, computer, or breakroom has something to say too ;)

Kath_San
Kath_San

Simple reminder of the most important task of any professional, even outside the realm of PR. You could have the most brilliant strategy or idea, but if you do not take time to list to your client, then they will not like any idea you have. People can’t hear you until you hear them. You take turns, but the client is always first. This post also does a great job of explaining listening involves an interactive component. Eye contact and acknowledgement are key to engaging with a client or coworker. Great tips of taking your leadership to the next level, along with any professional and personal relationships!

 

Katie Sanders

Platform Magazine Contributing Writer

platformmagazine.com

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

Great post Gini. Clients and Employees. Colleagues and Bosses. Friends and Family. All are moire impressed if you listen and remember. My weakness is I forget people's names the first time too often. I used to recite them in my head after first meetings. Tell me twice it is in my head for life. 

 

Eye contact is very important. In fact I suggest those that have a hard time with eye contact work on it. I am fearless. Don't care who you are I will look direct in your eyes. So important especially in Sales and marketing where everyone thinks you bullshit for money. Nothing confirms you are different than that direct eye contact.  And you will be surprised how many look away. 

 

 

rdopping
rdopping

What would Fraser Crane do? I often wonder why people few the need to overpower each other in conversation. I work with a bunch of type A personalities who consistently jump all over each other. It makes me nuts. The best approach for me is to not talk. Eventually I get a turn and people usually wonder how I could synthesize everything so succinctly. It makes me howl everytime it happens.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@ThomasJeffries3 There is a great video that shows how "connected" we are but we're all on our phones

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @blfarris   Well said.

 

I once had a creative director who put a little spin on the "What do you think" question. We went to show him advertising concepts that were due to be presented in a day. He looked at them and said, "These are pretty good. Do you think they're great?"

Well no, not exactly great, but not bad. "If you had another day to really work on it, do you think you could come up with something great?"  HELL YEAH!!

 

And you know, it worked. What we came up with in the extra day blew away what we had at first. Effective leadership in action.

HollyKatko
HollyKatko

@seanmcginnis Good Day in this snowstorm in Chicago!

InaBansal
InaBansal

@anasebrahem yeah true that! :-)

jdrobertson
jdrobertson

 @Andrea T.H.W.

 How right you are! A LEADER IS NOT PAID FOR WHAT HE DOES - RATHER HE IS PAID FOR WHAT HE CAN GET OTHERS TO DO. In order to do that he must a. Knows himself, b. Know his people, c. Know his job. (Not necessarily in that order. Unlike a CEO/boss whose primary interest is the bottom line - people be damned.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Andrea T.H.W. So, so true. Many are not taught how to lead, but how to micromanage and not trust people. It makes me crazy to hear some of the stories my friends tell about their bosses. I would not stay in a job if I were treated the way some of them are.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @JoeCardillo My computer has a lot to say...so much so I nearly threw it out the window last week. 

 

I would add to your story and say this doesn't have to be the traditional leader either - the person at the top of the ranks. Someone just starting out in business can be a leader by listening, asking questions, and learning.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @Kath_San I also like one of the points in the comments below about how technology is preventing us from listening. I'd even add to that to either turn off your WiFi if you're using your phone or table to take notes or to stick with good, old paper.

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@stephaniebaron thank you for sharing @GiniDietrich 's post I felt bad being her only reader today

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

 @rdopping I love messing with Types A's who deserve to feel like Type Cs to keep them in reality. And really ignoring em with some patronizing works great.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

 @ginidietrich Absolutely, and that's something I watch out for, too. When a manager or top exec doesn't truly foster that environment, it's just not a fun or interesting challenge.

StephanieBaron
StephanieBaron

.@howiegoldfarb I always read @ginidietrich stuff, I wanna be her when I grow up, or Tina Fey ;)

KensViews
KensViews

 @ginidietrich  @rdopping  You just shined a light on a two great lessons for brainstorm facilitators: 1) Accept that the introverts aren't  contributing ideas in the session, not because they don't have any, but because it's not their natural zone to share in a large group. Pair participants off during the session, have them brainstorm the ideas on their own, and then have the introverts present them. Works like a charm; and 2) Always create and offer a vehicle for all to share ideas after the brainstorm. You'll be amazed at what your introverts offer.  Rumor has it that's how the great "Catfish Chef's Contest" was born!

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

 @HowieG  @rdopping I'm not the vindictive type but I have to admit I do a bit of this too....it's kind of satisfying to respond in a way that lets them know, yes, we can all see you think you invented the sandwich, and no we're not going to play that game.

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@stephaniebaron lol well @ginidietrich has read all her books and has all her fox news segments on DVD.

StephanieBaron
StephanieBaron

@howiegoldfarb hey! You're not that far dude, I can drive down and kick your alien butt! @ginidietrich

howiegoldfarb
howiegoldfarb

@stephaniebaron @ginidietrich I think you both should be sarah palin

StephanieBaron
StephanieBaron

@ginidietrich one of us can be Amy Poehler ;D @howiegoldfarb

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@StephanieBaron Ohhhh! Can we both be Tina Fey?! @howiegoldfarb

KensViews
KensViews

 @rdopping  @ginidietrich  Assuring both introverts and extroverts that their ideas will be considered and "protected" is one of the most important roles of a facilitator. Another is managing ideas and suggestions so that they're focused on the needs of the "problem holder," and not that some participants "need" to make a point, as you cite above.

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  1. […] are great at listening.  Well, most of us are. Introverts are happy to sit back and listen to the conversation before they jump in. It’s the same for social media – community […]