Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Power of Listening

Every day I am blessed with the opportunity to visit with exceptional leaders. Some I have known and worked with for over 20 years. Others have visited with me about their journeys and challenges for 10+ years. And some have just begun to visit with me during the last couple of months.

When I pause and reflect on these in-depth dialogues, I realize that the most powerful gift we can give another person is the gift of unconditional listening. For it is when we, as people and leaders, show up, pay attention, and seek to truly understand another, we co-create something very unique, namely purposeful space.

Many years ago, I explored this concept with Rob Schultz, currently Executive Director of COVER Home Repair ( in White River Junction, Vermont. He explained to me that open space is uncomfortable to enter or to live in. For example, if we build a deck with no railing, we stick to the center of the deck because without a railing the edges do not feel very safe. Yet, once the railing is built, the space is defined and we are more comfortable within it. This happens because the railing binds the space together, and defines it’s purpose. Then, people can move to the edges of the deck and better enjoy the view.

As Rob continued, when a leader defines a time with a colleague or direct report as a place for in-depth listening and sharing, it is like putting a railing on a deck. The quality of the space changes and generates a greater degree of clarity and focus. It is, using his term, “bounded space,” namely space with a clear definition and boundaries.

Having watched executives coach their direct reports and having numerous opportunities to coach a CEO’s direct reports while they watch, time and time again I have learned and witnessed that when the space is well defined and when a leader shows up 100% within it, the results are truly remarkable and powerful. What comes clear to me this morning is that many of the answers we seek within such a space are actually within our grasp but because we, as leaders, are some days so consumed with details related to operational management, the monitoring of strategic variables while promoting innovation, and the analysis of critical data points, that we rarely, if ever, have the time to reflect on critical questions and explore new answers.

Nevertheless, when these leaders create purposeful space and when they provide unconditional listening within it, our attention shifts from the busy and at times unimportant details to the important strategic components of the organization, resulting in the discovery of the right answers to the current challenges. Still, the foundation of this process is the development of “bounded space.”

I encourage you to co-create this kind of space with your direct reports and amongst those who you trust. If you need assistance, please call. I will be glad to be of service.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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