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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:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2012/11/09/10-steps-to-effective-listening/

https://hbr.org/1957/09/listening-to-people/ar/1

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