Leaders: Are You as Good a Listener as You Think You Are?

girl holds the hand of a child listening to ear on gray backWhen I ask people to talk about the best boss they ever had, they always mention one quality—listening. The best leaders are good listeners. Our research shows that listening is a critical skill for developing people, building trust, and creating a meaningful connection. But be careful—we’ve also found that it’s common for direct reports to score their managers lower in listening skills than the managers score themselves. I’ve said many times that God gave us two ears and one mouth because he wanted us to listen more than we talk. Let me explain some of the fundamentals of effective listening in case you may want to sharpen your skills.

Pay Attention to Nonverbal Behaviors. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears—watch a person’s facial, eye, and body movements in addition to the tone of their voice. Be aware of clues that their silent behaviors provide while at the same time being sensitive to your own nonverbal signals. For example: are you encouraging someone to continue with a conversation, or silently telling them to stop?

Ask Questions. This is not about interrogation or control. Use well thought out questions to seek information, opinions, or ideas that will help you understand the person while helping them feel heard. The best leaders ask open-ended questions to encourage communication, clarifying questions to check for understanding, and prompting questions to encourage deeper thinking.

Reflect Feelings. Acknowledge any emotions being expressed by the person and share your understanding by restating the person’s feelings back to them in a nonjudgmental way. This will help demonstrate that you not only understand their message but also empathize with their feelings.

Paraphrase. Restate in your own words what was said to demonstrate that you heard what the speaker was saying. Paraphrasing is useful to confirm that you understand what your team member was saying.

Summarize. State in a nutshell what was said over the entire conversation. The exact words are not as important as clearly capturing the main points and sequence of what was said. This is where you want to reflect the speaker’s conclusion back to them to indicate that you understand.

As you can see, effective listening is about focusing on what the other person is saying and then demonstrating that you understand and value their thoughts. Developing listening skills takes an investment of time but is the best way to build trusting relationships with the people you lead. Using these skills should get you off to a good start.

Refiring Spiritually: Working for the Common Good

Japanese meditation or zen garden simplicity , calmness and balaIn our new book Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, Dr. Morton Shaevitz and I talk about four keys. The first key, Refiring Emotionally, is about creating connection; the second key, Refiring Intellectually, refers to lifelong learning; and the third key, Refiring Physically, is about keeping active to improve your mental outlook.

The fourth key is Refiring Spiritually. When I begin to talk about this topic, people often assume it’s going to be about religion. But I’m actually referring to the universal sense of the word spiritual as the opposite of material things. Refiring Spiritually is about getting in touch with something important outside of yourself—looking outward instead of inward. I believe when people have an opportunity to focus outside themselves, they will work toward a higher purpose. After all, it’s hard to become stale, bored, or dissatisfied with your work or your life when you are doing something that serves the greater good.

As the Chief Spiritual Officer of our company, I leave a morning message every day to praise and inspire people. I want everyone in our company to hear when someone has accomplished a big goal or when someone needs a little help with achieving something personally or professionally. Leaders who provide opportunities for giving and spiritual growth help people understand that it’s not all about them.

For example, we have a self-organized team called Blanchard for Others that donates time and funds to help other charities in the community. In another program we call Blanchard Gives Back, every year we set aside a percentage of our profits and allow each of our people to designate a portion to go to a charity of their choice. We also encourage employees to take up to 40 paid hours a year to donate their time to charitable organizations. Do our people feel good about the difference they are making in the world? You bet they do.

In our book, Morton and I share a code of conduct that I think can help you find ways for your people to grow spiritually, too. Encourage your people to think about these statements from the perspective of their own working environment:

  • Be aware—See the big picture
  • Be forgiving—Give up being right
  • Be grateful—Count your blessings
  • Be accepting—Realize you’re not in total control
  • Be humble—Realize you’re not the center of the universe

It’s amazing what people can do when they work toward something bigger than themselves. Encouraging people to focus on the greater good works in our company—and I think it can work in yours as well.

RefireTo learn more about Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, visit the book homepage where you can download a free chapter.

Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut. Refire at Work!

I’m so excited about tStuck In The Mudhe release of my latest book written with my friend Morton Shaevitz, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. When Morton and I started this book, we focused on the fact that people who embrace life with gusto enjoy better health, more happiness, and greater fulfillment.

Then we realized the same principles can be applied at work. When people see their workplace as a space to enhance relationships, stimulate their mind, revitalize physically, and grow spiritually, it brings passion to their work. Most senior leaders are aware of the statistics about disengaged employees in the workplace and how important it is to create opportunities for meaningful connection at work. I know many of you are reading this right now and saying to yourself, “Oh, great, one more thing I need to do at work to help my employees love their job.” Let me be clear that the full responsibility isn’t on you—but you can play a part by utilizing the four keys to refiring.

The first key is Refiring Emotionally. Everyone needs emotional nourishment. Our research shows that people who have friends at work are happier, more loyal, and more productive. As a leader you can help people make emotional connections by encouraging teamwork, offering workshops or retreats, and holding celebrations. Everything from acknowledging birthdays and work anniversaries to companywide parties can support emotional refiring. Creating an emotionally connected culture not only gives people a morale boost, it also increases innovation and collaboration.

Morton and I defined the code of conduct for refiring emotionally to remind you how simple it can be to make a difference.

Be playful—Laugh and kid

Be friendly—Smile and be happy

Be joyful—Embrace the moment

Be loving—Approach and welcome others

Be spontaneous—Get out of your comfort zone

Be enthusiastic—Give it your all

I’m not saying you have to turn your work environment into a playground, but adding a little humor, warmth, and caring interaction will enhance emotional health and improve relationships. Just try one or two of the items on the list and I’m sure you’ll start to see a positive difference in yourself—and in your engaged workforce.

 

What Great Leaders Know and Do: Results through People

I’m excited to sharePortrait Of Joyful Business Team the fourth element of the SERVE model from the first book I wrote with Mark Miller, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. But I can’t start without a quick review of the first three elements.

The S in the SERVE model stands for See the Future and points out the importance of having a compelling vision for the future. The first E in the model stands for Engage and Develop Others and focuses on hiring the right people for the right roles and investing in their development. The R stands for Reinvent Continuously and refers to personal reinvention, systems and processes reinvention, and structural reinvention.

The V in the SERVE model stands for Value Results and Relationships. For many years, leaders thought they had to choose between people and results, but in fact both elements are critical for long-term success. It’s not an either/or proposition—it’s a both/and approach. Leaders who focus only on results will lose their people—but leaders also can’t run a company as if it were a social club. People have to be held accountable for achieving goals. Successful leaders are able to create an environment where morale is high and people work diligently to achieve results. Leaders must set high expectations while maintaining respectful relationships that will inspire optimal performance.

Think about a time when you had a great leader. I’ll bet that leader challenged you to perform at a high level, but also provided support to help you reach your goals. Leaders who set clear goals with their people, listen to their needs, provide authentic feedback and coaching, and celebrate successes along the way will reap the benefits of working with a consistently high performing team.

The typical ups and downs of our economy require leaders to stay aware of business results, but smart leaders realize those results are achieved by people. I’ve always said that if you take care of your customers and create a motivating work environment for your people, profits and financial strength are the applause you’ll get for a job well done.

As you can see, great leaders must balance both critical elements—results and relationships. Measure your ability to do this by asking yourself these questions:

  • How much emphasis do I place on getting results?
  • How many of my people would say I make a significant investment in helping them succeed?
  • How have I expressed appreciation for a job well done in the past thirty days?

Answer honestly, and remember: mastering the art of leadership is a journey. There will always be room for improvement, so enjoy the trip.

Do You Have the Heart of a Leader?

teach, inspire, motivate  - a collage of isolated words in vintaI’ve worked with thousands of leaders over the years and the most successful ones achieve results while acting with respect, care, and fairness for the well-being of everyone involved. Many companies put pressure on leaders to reach or surpass goals at any cost. But wise companies realize that leaders who can achieve results by creating a motivating work environment are the leaders who will sustain future success.

What’s the secret behind this kind of leader? I think truly effective leadership begins on the inside—with your heart. Leading from your heart is about leadership character and intention, which form the backbone of servant leadership. As a leader, you must ask yourself why you lead. Is it to serve or to be served? Answering this question in a truthful way is so important. You can’t fake being a servant leader. I believe that if leaders don’t get the heart right, they simply won’t ever become servant leaders.

The most persistent barrier to being a servant leader is a heart motivated by self-interest that looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition. Leaders with hearts motivated by self-interest put their own agenda, safety, status, and gratification ahead of those who are affected by their thoughts and actions. Leaders with a servant heart believe their role is to bring out the best in others. They thrive on developing people and helping them achieve their goals. They constantly try to find out what their people need to perform well. Being a servant leader is not just another management technique. It is a way of life for those with servant hearts.