As part of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask participants to read an article called “The Leader of the Future” from the June 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine. In it, William Taylor interviews Ron Heifetz, director of the Leadership Education Project at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
During the interview, Heifetz shares the following about listening. “Most leaders die with their mouths open. Leaders must know how to listen -- and the art of listening is more subtle than most people think it is. But first, and just as important, leaders must want to listen. Good listening is fueled by curiosity and empathy: What's really happening here? Can I put myself in someone else's shoes? It's hard to be a great listener if you're not interested in other people.”
From my vantage point, I have noticed that strategic leaders listen holistically, synthesize continually and reflect deeply. First, this level of holistic listening starts with the above mentioned genuine interest in other people but just as important it is the recognition on their part that there is always more to the story. And as they listen, strategic leaders ask questions more than make statements. They seek greater depth and understanding. They want to know the whole story, rather than just a particular perspective.
Second, they synthesize a great deal of information and reflect deeply about it. This process begins by gathering as much information as possible. Reading reports, listening to people, reviewing metrics and doing the old Tom Peter’s management by wandering around approach, strategic leaders discover fresh insights and new understandings. They comprehend the concept that awareness is not understanding.
Third, they also reflect deeply. Strategic leaders are thinkers. They pause often and engage in serious consideration of all the elements related to a specific situation. The result is that they engage in a comprehensive analysis of what is taking place.
This week, be more curious and more empathetic. Listen more carefully and reflect more deeply. It will make a huge difference when leading others through organizational change.