All the questions in the world will not help your team if you are not listening. You don’t learn when you’re talking; you learn when you’re listening. Excellent coaches are also excellent listeners and learners.
Mark Twain said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.”
If you’re not listening to your employees, you will gradually suffer from “blind spots” – weaknesses that are apparent to others but not to you.
A classic episode of Seinfeld featured Elaine while she was the acting president of her company. She couldn’t figure out why her entire staff was suddenly shying away from her. She quickly blamed her friend George for her seeming downfall at the office.
This all started to happen after a company party where Elaine, thinking she was a good dancer, did not hesitate to show off a few of her moves. Unfortunately, this was a HUGE blind spot for Elaine. It was painfully clear to everyone else that Elaine was a horrible dancer as she flailed and contorted her way across the floor!
When Jerry asked his friend George if Elaine danced at the party, George replied, “It was more like a full-bodied dry heave set to music.” As a viewer, you could feel the sting of embarrassment for her and the dread if you should ever find yourself in such a situation.
Fortunately for Elaine, she had an incredibly blunt friend in Kramer who, in no uncertain terms, revealed her blind spot by responding to her request for feedback on her dancing with an emphatic, “You stink!” Learn from Elaine. Listen to your employees, particularly your “Kramers.”
Excellent leaders prevent blind spots by making concerted efforts to keep in tune with the realities of their employees – listening for the truth. This is particularly important because the higher you are in an organization, the more filtered the information you receive. It’s a natural and predictable phenomenon, but it’s also a precarious position for any leader. No leader wants to be “Elaine on the dance floor.” Therefore, the higher your leadership position, the more listening you need to do.
By simply asking questions, your employees will reveal challenges and opportunities that could potentially take you months or years to identify. Asking questions and then really listening demonstrates personal respect, obtains buy-in, and makes people feel valued in a way that financial rewards cannot. Listen for the entire message your employee is communicating with his words, tone, posture, eyes, energy, hesitations, fluency, etc.
Excellent leaders listen at least 50 percent of the time. Andrew Levi, a client and excellent leader of numerous businesses, has done a tremendous amount of leading, presenting, pitching, directing, persuading, and explaining in his efforts to build winning cultures and businesses. When asked about the topic of listening, he directly replied, “He who talks the most loses.”
Ask, be silent and listen to engage your team.