It was during my first year of teaching high school history and I was deeply frustrated. Overwhelmed by the combination of classroom management and trying to figure out how to get tenth grade students interested in learning history, I stopped by the Academic Dean’s office for advice and counsel.
“Why can’t I get this, Jim?”, I inquired. “Every day I am putting my all into this class and I feel like I trying to push a rope up a hill. It’s just not working for all of us in the classroom.”
He sat quietly for a moment and then said, “Teaching is hard work. It is not a you speak and they learn equation. Instead, you have to frame it up as an on-going conversation, a dialogue. Think of it as a give and take between you and the students. You need to give and you need to receive. My advice: speak less and listen more. Then, they will respond.”
I nodded my head and thought to myself, “What have I got to lose? It can’t get much worse than this.”
The following day I taught a bit of new material and then I asked an open ended question. Next, I waited. Sure enough, students started to answer the question and then they shared even more. I had to be patient but during the coming days when I asked more open ended questions, more and more people spoke up in class and shared. We did cover all of the material and my students were more engaged in their learning.
Now, many decades later, I often recommend to struggling leaders to “speak less and listen more.” Most report to me that it makes a major difference in the depth of engagement they witness throughout their organization.
This week, practice speaking less and listening more. I believe you will find over time that it is a powerful way to role model authentic leadership.