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 Physically: Keep Moving!

an athletic pair of legs on pavement during sunrise or sunset -Are you ready to learn about the next key from my new book, Refire! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life, coauthored with Morton Shaevitz? As a reminder, the first key, Refiring Emotionally, is about creating a work environment where people can be engaged. The second key, Refiring Intellectually, suggests the need for lifelong learning. Now let’s consider the third key—Refiring Physically.

Numerous articles have been published about the positive link between physical exercise and improved mental outlook and job performance. Smart companies realize that employees who exercise are more productive and engaged. Many HR departments offer wellness programs such as exercise facilities in the building, discounts to a gym, or a hosted yoga class or walking club. And it never hurts to get creative—encourage people who sit at a desk all day to get up every thirty minutes to walk or stretch to get their blood pumping. Hold meetings where everyone stands up. Walk down the hall or to the next building to talk to someone instead of e-mailing them. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Exercise doesn’t have to be a carefully planned, timed activity—it can be anything that gets you up and moving, even for a few minutes.

Through the years as our company has grown, our headquarters has spread out little by little until we now occupy several small office buildings on our street. A few years ago we created a natural walking path that goes around the buildings. I’ve noticed that our “Blanchard Trail” gets quite a bit of use. Some people walk in exercise clothes so I know they are working out, but others wear work clothes and are just taking advantage of a nice way to get reenergized. Some have told me they even hold one-on-one meetings while walking on the path. A short walk in the fresh air can give anyone a new perspective and help them be more effective on the job. The health benefits are an added value.

It’s easy to help employees understand the link between a healthy body and a healthy mind. Share this code of conduct that Morton and I created as a handy reminder:

  • Be healthy—Honor and strengthen your body
  • Be an exerciser—Move your body
  • Be a smart eater—Eat less and enjoy more
  • Be energetic—Play hard and rest well
  • Stay flexible—Stretch every day
  • Learn balance—Practice standing on one foot, then the other

So get up and move! And spend time to keep your employees healthy. It’s an investment in the vitality of your entire organization.

 

Refire

To 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: Engaging and Developing Your Staff

In my last blog I introduced tSuccessful business woman leading a team - isolated over whitehe SERVE model from The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do—the first book I coauthored with Mark Miller that was just released in a 10th Anniversary Edition.

In case you missed it, last time I talked about how the S in the model stands for See the Future and points out the importance of having a compelling vision of the future.

Now I want to focus on the first E in the SERVE model, which stands for Engage and Develop Others. As a leader, you must be able to put the right people in the right roles. This involves making the best decisions when recruiting people for your team. Of course you need to look for specific business skills required by the role—but you should also consider the character of the person. Will they fit in with other colleagues and share common values with the rest of the team?

Once the right people are in place, the best leaders invest in the development of those people. Build an environment where people are so engaged that they dedicate themselves to helping achieve the vision. Create an expectation for learning and growing. Give people opportunities to develop their skills and leverage their strengths by providing ongoing training, mentoring, and other types of growth.

We know from research on employee engagement that as much as three-quarters of employees are either totally disengaged or somewhat disengaged at work—so there is a real opportunity for leaders to make a difference by engaging and developing their staff. Even moving that score a little in the right direction will have a huge positive impact, not only on individuals but on the entire organization.

So ask yourself these important questions: Do I have the right people on board? Am I continuing to help them develop? Have I created an engaging work environment? The answers you come up with are the first steps to ensuring your effectiveness as a leader—and the ultimate success of your organization.