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Listen, You Might Just Learn Something

There’s something magnificent about the art of listening – especially for those in a position to lead or manage others in pursuit of a goal or objective. For instance, one time a client was considering changing their mission statement. The organization had been in existence for over 75 years and they weren’t sure if the mission was still relevant. The individual members of the Board of Directors had strong opinions to change or not to change, and the CEO had their own opinion as well. There was fear and uncertainty because no one was quite sure how a change in the mission statement would impact their brand and image in the community. This is precisely why the Board and CEO decided they needed to ask their stakeholders for their opinions. Before making such a monumental decision they agreed to seek input and guidance from staff, clients, the public at-large, former board members, donors (this is a non-profit), vendors, partner agencies, and even adversaries. They asked, they listened, and here’s the magnificent part – they learned. The lessons they learned were numerous – I’ve chosen to share the following 3 with you. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a County Council or a nonprofit, I’m confident there’s a lesson in here for you.

  1. Listening Requires a Dose of Humility. It takes humility to admit, someone knows what you don’t. “I don’t know”, isn’t a very popular phrase you hear taught in leadership and management classes. In this situation the leaders had to admit, they didn’t know what to do – they were teachable. Even though the ultimate decision would be theirs they felt others might have some insight to guide their decision. Imagine, a Board and CEO asking staff members and clients for their opinions. Humility provided the space for them to learn that all their stakeholders had valuable input that came from perspectives they would have never seen or considered.
  2. Listening can Remove the Guesswork. Some were hesitant to change the mission because they thought they may lose donors, funders, or confuse the community – they weren’t sure if this would happen, but felt strongly it could. By asking, listening, and learning from their stakeholders they removed much of the guesswork. Though they didn’t talk to every individual in the community, they got feedback from a representative sample that would let any statistician sleep well at night. In one case one of the primary donors that some feared would walk away, applauded the fact that the Board was, “Considering their relevancy and demonstrating their willingness to reconnect with the community.”
  3. Listening Builds Trust. High-Trust is the foundation of any functioning relationship, team, organization, or company. Listening builds and breeds trust because you demonstrate to others that they matter, their opinions matter, and their thoughts matter. If people feel like they don’t matter then they won’t trust you. In some instances when stakeholders were asked for their perspective during this project they used it as an opportunity to “say what was on their mind.” And trust me, they said it. This contributed to building trust because the board, CEO and other leaders listened to understand – not respond. Listening didn’t mean they were going to do everything everyone wanted them to do.       It meant they were going to seek, receive, and thoughtfully consider the input to help form their decision. When the ultimate decision was made, one reason stakeholders supported it was because they were part of it – it was easier to trust a decision that you played an integral part in making.

Listening will result in several positive benefits for the teachable individual, team and organization. Remember, listening requires humility, removes the guesswork and builds trust. Take the time today to listen to your stakeholders. You might just learn something. Oh by the way, they successfully changed the mission statement after listening to their stakeholders.

These are just a few of the benefits of listening. Do you have any others to add? Let us know in the comments.


Additional Resources to Enhance Your Listening Skills:



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Why Can’t We Be Friends??

We like to be liked.  I don’t know the science behind this and I must admit I don’t have any evidence-based empirical data to support my assumption – I just know what I know from watching people, interacting with people, and oh by the way, being a person myself.  We like to be liked – I don’t think many people would dispute this.

Though it may seem harmless, “liking to be liked” can cause some challenges on the job.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a person say one of the following I’d have a lot of nickels:

“They don’t like me.”

“What can I do to make her like me?”

“I just want to be friends.”

“Why can’t we be friends?”

I wish we could all like each other – but that’s probably not going to happen.

I wish all of your employees liked you – but that’s probably not going to happen.

The fact of the matter is this – you and I have to learn to work with, grow with, achieve with, and live with people we may not like and who may not like us.

Organizational performance, productivity, and results are the priority.  Being liked by everyone is not the priority.  If you’re objective is to be liked by everyone, you’ll compromise the mission and compromise your values to please people who will never like you anyway.

Here are three quick considerations for you and your team:

  1. Our individual petty differences and issues pale in comparison to achieving our mission.
  2. I don’t have to like you to work with you and you don’t have to like me – But we must respect each other.
  3. Just because a person isn’t social on the job, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you.  That could mean that’s not their focus.  Some people go to work, to work – they purposely choose to separate their social life from their professional life.

Bottom Line: We can be friends, but if we can’t, we can still work together.

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Talk To Everybody or Talk to Nobody

“They don’t talk to me, I don’t talk to them.”

“He speaks to her and asks her about her day, he’s never asked about mine.”

“She’ll walk right past me, speak to him, and keep moving.”

“He’s looked me right in the eyes and didn’t even acknowledge me.”

“She only speaks to ones she likes.”

“He only talks to the white people.”

“She only talks to the black people.”

“He only talks to the attractive ones.”

“I don’t know why he doesn’t talk to me.  I don’t care,  I don’t have time to worry about it.”

 Is the setting for these quotes the typical Middle School cafeteria during lunch time — NO!!!!

These quotes come from professional men and women in the workplace.  They’re talking about their Executive Director, CEO, Supervisor, or Manager.

True or not, right or not, agree or not.  This is the perception of some in the workplace.  Maybe even your workplace.

As a leader you can’t solve another person’s personal problems or issues and you surely can’t be responsible to meet all of their social and relational needs.  However; there is one thing you can do.  You can talk to them.  Talk to everybody. Speak to everybody.  Acknowledge everybody.

Believe it or not, there are some people who would improve their performance today, if you just acknowledged their existence.  And yes, leaders, talking to people IS part of your job.

So talk to everybody or talk to nobody.

Hey, if you talk to nobody, at least they can’t say you have a favorite (You know this part is for humor, right?? Don’t pick this option.)


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7 Things Staff Want

Your staff is on the front-line for your nonprofit, government agency or corporation.  Your staff see things that you don’t see, they hear things you don’t hear, they know things you don’t know.  Your staff doesn’t hold the key to your success, they are the key to your success.  ApproachABLE, TeachABLE leaders value their staff and take the time to find out what their staff really want and need to be succesful.

Here’s a brief list of what we’ve discovered staff want.  After reading, please suggest any additions in the comment section.

Staff Want:

1) To be respected.

2) To be valued.

3) To be appreciated.

4) To be heard.

5) To grow and develop personally and professionally.

6) To be challenged.

7) To trust leadership.

So what do you do now that you know???

Spend today respecting, valuing, appreciating, listening to, developing, and challenging your staff and watch them start to trust you.


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Should Staff Be Treated Like They’re Human??

Should Staff Be Treated Like They’re Human??  Silly question, huh??  Every prudent, responsible, mature leader is going to answer yes.  Of course they should.   But maybe the question isn’t so silly considering the stories we hear from staff that believe they’re not treated like they’re human.

Let’s play a game.  The name of the game is Guess Where I Work??? Here are the rules: I’ll give you a scenario and then give you list of work places to choose from – pretty easy, right?  Ok, here we go:

Guess Where I Work????

Managers yell at their staff.  On the right day, you’ll even here a manager curse at employees.  Employees from different departments yell at each other and have no problem telling each other “where to go and how to get there”.  Disrespect is the order of the day.  Staff are treated like they’re children, and to be honest, some act like children.  Managers talk to people from other departments in a condescending, insulting manner – some thrive on embarrassing those further down the “food chain”.  Some mid-level managers are considered a joke – they have no back-bone or credibility, their own staff  disrespect them – they’re just doing time until retirement.    Turnover is high, morale is low, but at the end of the year, we meet our goals.

So where do I work?

1) A Wall Street financial brokerage firm

2) A local trucking company

3) A Human Services nonprofit

The correct answer for this case is #3 – a Human Services nonprofit.  Are you surprised???  Why or why not??

One employee said, “I’m not doing this for the money, the least they can do is treat us nice.”

Another employee said, “It’s ironic, we’re in the business of human services, but we don’t treat each other like we’re human”.

Think about what these two employees are saying – “Treat us nice, like we’re humans.”  Yes, even in the Nonprofit Sector we have to be reminded to treat each other nice, like we’re humans.





Some questions for you to consider???

1) Could this be your organization?? How do you know??

2) What does this example tell you about the culture of this organization??

3) What do you do as a leader to intentionally develop and protect the culture of your organization??

4) How can we achieve our goals/objectives and still maintain a respectful work environment??

Remember, as the leader your job is to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization – if patterns like this develop, you nip it in the bud.  Don’t allow people to be verbally/mentally bullied and abused on your watch.  The fact of the matter is that sometimes you have to protect your people from each other.

By the way, as usual in all of our case studies, don’t try to guess who it is – the names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Also, you shouldn’t be trying to figure out which organization this is, you should be trying to make sure it’s never yours.

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“Those People”

Here we go again.  Another person says something they shouldn’t have said about one of “Those People” and apologized for it.  Welcome to the party Philadephia Eagles Wide Receiver Riley Cooper.

As I’ve listened and watched everyone from radio commentators, to television personalities, to “gym rats” at the Y discuss how appalled and disgusted they are, I just smile.  Their comments include:

It’s 2013, how can someone say that?

I can’t believe people can be so ignorant.

I would never do that.

When will this end??

Again, after these and similar comments all I can do is smile.  Why am I smiling? Because sometimes I think it’s pretty entertaining to watch people lie to themselves.   Now putting entertainment aside, I’m tired.  I’m tired of all the empty, re-hashed, lack of outcome-driven talking.   I’m tired of us fooling ourselves and fooling each other.  Why do we do this?

Because we’ve been taught & told since childhood “not to talk about” certain things – So we’ve become adults that don’t know how to talk about them.

So here’s the conversation starter.  I’m going to say what no one in the national media has said, to my recollection.  I’m about to say what most of us already know and believe, but we dare not say.  I’m going to say something that can spark a conversation that has the power to change the landscape of race relations, and any other relation that involves “differences” in people.  Ready for what I’m about to say.  Here it is – three points.




Being prejudiced isn’t the real problem.  The problem is how we manage our prejudices when they begin to rise up and come out.  If we’re honest we see some of “those people” and thoughts come out of nowhere, we don’t want to think them, but they come out.  And then when we reach the point that we stop thinking it, as soon as one of  “those people” pisses us off it comes back.  Why does it come back, because it never left.  And oh by the way, it may never leave.

But when our culture can mature and we all put on our Big Boy and Big Girl pants we can engage in some #CourageousConversations with all of those people in the room together.  We may just learn from each other.  We may learn how to manage our prejudices.  We may gain some knowledge and awareness that will dispute and dispel our prejudices.  We may just learn how to control our prejudice.

It’s interesting when we conduct our “Those People Exercise”© in seminars people always say, “I was taught not to say that.”  Very rarely, if ever, will someone say, “I was taught not to think it.”

So Riley Cooper was probably taught not to say it (in public), but he probably wasn’t taught not to think it and therefore he surely wasn’t able to know how to manage it when it started to rise up in him.

What about you? Are you able to manage your prejudices?  How are you able to deal with those horrible things that you thought you cleansed from your spirit when they attempt to rise up during the most inconvenient times?


**Those People Exercise© is a unique experience where a safe space is create for participants to open up and share everything they’ve ever heard, been taught, saw, or thought about different groups/populations.




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Am I the Reason My People Have No Initiative?

Leader: “I can’t get my team to take initiative and take charge of projects.  They won’t just jump in and “do it”.  How can I get them to grab the reigns and take charge.”

Me: “What’s been your previous pattern of delegating authority?”

Leader: “Huh?”

Me: “Do you have a history of delegating authority and tasks to your people?”

Leader: “No, I haven’t in the past, but I’m starting to do it now.”

Me:  “Well this explains why they won’t take charge and just jump in.”  Let me explain.

Your team feeds off of your behavior and your patterns – they know you, they watch you.  If you have a pattern of just doing it yourself, you know the old saying “by the time I show somebody else how to do it, I might as well do it myself” –  you can’t be surprised when they don’t jump in to do a job that you NOW want them to do.  Every time you didn’t delegate a task to your team, that should have been delegated, you were telling them, “I don’t have confidence in you” – that was your pattern.  So this is new territory for them – you can’t expect them to just do it.  For those leaders who have seen the “delegation light” and want to now realize all the benefits of creating an environment where your team members can exhibit their competency and skills through delegation, here are a few things you are ABLE to do:

  1. Reintroduce yourself to your team: Bring everyone together and introduce the new you.  Acknowledge the new pattern of behavior you are committing to, and also share why you are doing this. Acknowledge that this is new and there will be a transition period for everyone – you have to get used to delegating and they have to get used to receiving.  You’re restoring trust at this point.
  2. When you delegate be very clear regarding roles, responsibilities and expectations.  For instance, ensure the individuals you delegate to, have the capacity to perform the task at hand.
  3. If you want something a certain way, let them know.  Don’t make people “guess” to figure out how you want something done. If you have specific imperatives that must be met, let them know up front.
  4. Let them know where there’s room for flexibility, imagination and creativity.  Let them be flexible, imaginative, and creative.
  5.  Finally throughout the delegation process communication must be clear, concise, and consistent.    You may not want to wait til the end to see what’s been done – create a space where you can check-in with each other without anyone feeling disempowered on one end or disturbed on the other.

Remember this “delegation thing” is new to you and to them.  Every time you delegate with confidence, they have the opportunity to demonstrate competence.  This becomes a powerful  cycle that leads to greater confidence and competence.

Want to learn more?? Take a look at TWG_retreats to see how we can help you and your team improve your performance over time.


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“Your Old Isn’t The Same As My Old.”

I don’t know if it’s because today is my birthday or because my daughter can be quick with her words, but this exchange I had with her today was pretty funny.

We had a family conversation today to talk about plans to move in the next two years.  We discussed potential locations, plans, etc. .

After the conversation Devin did what Devin does – she began to research, investigate, and plan.  She jumps online, starts looking at houses in the areas we discussed.  By the way, I love her enthusiasm and willingness to jump in and get stuff done.

After bringing me several listings of modern styled homes, I reminded her of the type of house I’m looking for.  Without giving it much thought, I said, “Devin, I want an older style house.”  She shook her head, walked away and came back with some other available properties.  Again, I said, “Devin I want an older house.”  She looks at me and said, “Well daddy, your old isn’t the same as my old.” 

Devin was right, her old, isn’t my old.  I had to sit down with her, show her different styles and then she got it.  More importantly, I got it.   In that moment I was confronted with a common communication barrier many of us face and learned another leadership lesson that my children have been so kind to teach me.  I realized that defining important terms is important to effective communication.  In today’s conversation with Devin the word “old” was the important term that needed to be defined – I was ABLE to define it, but I didn’t.

Leadership Lesson for the ABLE Leader = When we clearly communicate and define important terms, people understand what we want and are more likely to meet our expectations. 

By the way,  I’m not sensitive to the word old because It’s my birthday and I’m a year older, but because it’s the style of house I want.  :)

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Don’t Worry About It

A young professional shared this with me recently.  In the last few months several people had been “let go” from her organization.  Concerned for her own job security, she approached the Executive Director to find out if the organization was going to “be here” next month – she was told don’t worry about.  A few days later she overheard the CFO telling the Executive Director that cash flow was way down and the organization had never been this broke – she again approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.  Finally there has been an increasing number of creditors and subcontractors calling the office seeking payment for overdue invoices and bills, once again she approached the Executive Director and was told – don’t worry about it.

By this time you do know what she’s doing, don’t you?  That’s right worrying about.  I understand that there are times when leadership believes the followers can’t handle the truth – not saying I agree with this or condone it, but I do understand how leaders may think it – they may think if everyone really knew how dire the situation is they may panic, they may leave, programs may suffer.  Well guess what, if they’re constantly worried about what you won’t talk about, the work and programs are suffering already.  AccountABLE  leaders help their people confront and navigate reality.

Reality is confronting this young lady on a daily basis and the Executive Director’s admonishings of Don’t Worry About It aren’t working.  Leaders are ABLE to talk about what their people are worried about.



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The Formula for Effective Communication

“We have two ears and one mouth, so let’s use them proportionally.”  I don’t know who said this originally, but I do know there’s some wisdom in these words – wisdom that leaders need to consider.

Sidebar, Pause, Timeout: Before you read any further.  If you work with me or if you’re related to me, you are not allowed to post a comment to this blog.    (Just kidding, I think..) “I’m a work in progress, like all of you reading this.  We’re growing together.”  Ok, continue on.

Communication, or the lack thereof, can make or break our relationships, our teams, our organizations, and even our communities.

If communication is so important, why are we so bad at it??  I’ll tell you why: Because we like to talk and tell.  We don’t like to listen and ask, we want to talk and tell.  Test it out on your own and see if I’m right – at your next meeting pay attention to the dynamics in the room.  There’s very little dialogue taking place – there are actually multiple monologues taking place.  Someone says what they want to say, people stare at them; they take a breath, someone else jumps in, people stare at them, they take a breath; another person jumps in, says something like “let me piggy back on that” (just to be nice), because whatever they say following this statement has nothing to do what was on the piggy’s back.

So you just spent another hour in a meeting with people talking and telling.  No one was listening and asking.  And IF a question is asked, if it’s not the question the talker/teller wants to discuss, it’s ignored.  By the way you’re lucky if anyone asks a question, because if the leaders are known for talking and telling, people that have something to ask, will stop asking because they consider it a waste of time.

So what’s the Leadership Lesson here?  It’s pretty simple stop talking/telling and start listening/asking.

4 things you (we) can do:

  1. Ask others if it’s ok for you to take notes while their speaking.  It’ll stop you from interrupting them, help you sort out your thoughts & remember what you want to say at a later time.  Oh yea, take notes – don’t doodle.
  2. When someone is finished making a point, repeat it back to them to confirm you heard the correct message.  It shows that you are listening and you value what they say, and you want to get it right. (I gotta work on this one)
  3. Ask open-ended questions that allow others to expand upon their thoughts.  Don’t ask closed-ended or leading questions that take people to where you want to go.
  4. Be willing to NOT BE the “smartest person in the room” – Someone knows what you don’t know.  Be TeachABLE. Give your people the space to express their genius and creativity.

Remember the Formula:

2 ears


1 mouth

= Listening twice as much as you speak.

I think this will help some of us communicate more effectively.   What do you think?

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