Saturday, February 14, 2015

Listening and Leadership

There is a reason why we have two ears but only one mouth. It was not until I had made one of my worst career mistakes that I became aware of this.

I had just been assigned the role of the head of the newly built technology center in India. In my earnest desire to earn my salary through hard work and contribution I started pushing my team. Equipped with a fast-firing supercomputer brain, or so I thought, I would complete people's sentences before they had a chance to air their views and opinions. Sometimes I will notice a flash of disapproval on their face but I would dismiss it without giving it a second thought till one day my boss delivered the feedback. Change or else... Well not exactly in those words but it meant same none the less. I had no clue what I was doing wrong.

I never thought that I was alienating my own team by my lack of listening abilities. My inability to keep quite and listen to other ideas became my biggest stumbling block.

As soon as one of my colleagues will come with a problem I had ready solutions. I would immediately jump in and offer solutions without even understanding that he only wanted to share the solution that she had come up with.

My Aha! moment came when one of my colleagues explicitly asked me if he could complete was he was saying. He needed some space and once I gave him that, things changed. Not surprisingly, he was willing to listen to my ideas with open mind after I made a sincere effort to hear his thoughts. I had read Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" long time back but had never experienced firsthand the power of the fourth habit "Seek first to understand and then to be understood". It was a defining moment for me.

What I learnt from this  experience and my reading on the subject is that we have a strong urge to make contribution and are afraid that by the time our turn come our ideas would have been already expressed by someone else and we may not have anything new to say. Trust yourself. You will deliver the goods when its your turn.

Two techniques I learn't from executive coach Tom Henschel are Creating Silence and Resisting offering solutions too soon. Both these techniques allow another person the space to express himself. Continuing to explore the problem may reveal solutions that are better than the ones you had come up with initially and as a bonus helps you improve your relationships with other people.

This is my first weekly post and if you like it please share it with your friends. If you have any feedback about this post or a Leadership topic on which you would like me to write about in future please leave your comment on the blog or write to me directly on

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