5 Ways for Leaders to Listen Harder

I am mostly offline, attending a business conference. I have asked several bloggers to post in my absence. This is a guest post by Craig Jarrow. He is an author, speaker, and blogger on time management and technology. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

At a recent conference I attended, I heard someone say that the higher leaders advance in an organization, the less truth they receive.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/cimmerian

In the conversation that ensued, it was discussed how executives receive less feedback from their teams and organizations. This was attributed to positional authority, employee job security fears, and other organizational factors.

Leaders may receive less direct feedback, but they do receive feedback. In fact, workers will often tell them more because they think (and hope) their leader can impact the issues that they bring. The good leader may need to listen harder.

For example, not many front line workers are going to tell the CEO that the new marketing initiative is a flop. But they will bring up concerns in conversation. Employees won’t say the new VP is bullying his team. However, they will relate issues and stories of borderline behavior.

When that VP is later fired, the CEO will ask why he wasn’t aware of the situation. Why hadn’t people let him know what was going on? They had. The CEO just wasn’t listening.

In today’s work environment, employees are cautious not to make “career limiting moves.” The details brought forth may be presented in a manner to protect themselves and others. The facts may be related in a politically correct manner.

The good leader must be a good listener and able to interpret what he or she is hearing. The message is often there, it just may need some skilled listening. Here are five ways for leaders to listen harder:

  1. Walk the Workplace. Senior leaders often wall themselves off, sometimes literally, in their own world. They are so busy that they don’t stray off the path from the door to their executive offices.

    A great question for all senior leaders is, “When was the last time you walked around the office? Who did you meet and what did you learn?” The best times to do this are at the beginning and end of the day. These are magical times to walk the workplace if you want to know who is getting things done.

  2. Listen, Don’t Solve. Many leaders got where they are because they “got things done.” They were problem-solvers. However, good leaders resist the urge to immediately solve every problem and instead simply listen to what they are hearing.

    If someone is relating an issue and the leader cuts off that person to give an answer, the facts can be lost. The leader may not get to the heart of the matter and will miss further information the employee was going to contribute.

  3. Corroborate Multiple Sources. Leaders have to be particularly alert to hearing things from multiple sources. If an off comment is made about a person’s performance, it could be just that: an off comment. (It could even be a destructive comment by a jealous co-worker).

    However, if that same comment is heard from three or four different sources, the hard-listening leader is able to corroborate these multiple data points. It is probably a sign of a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.

  4. Don’t Assume You Are Right. Leaders often go with their gut. It may have gotten them where they are. However, assuming they have the right answer when talking to a subordinate is short-sighted.

    The department worker who is actually doing the job probably has more insight than the executive. When the finance analyst who actually processes the reports is telling you about an issue, it’s time to listen. And listen good.

  5. Ask Questions (Lots of Them). The listening leader asks lots of questions, especially ones that start with why.

    During a lunch with a junior employee, the leader is surprised that the employee wants to discuss the new expense system. Seems like an odd topic. By asking questions, he or she might uncover the new system that is saving the company money is actually taking three times as long to pay employees and twice as long for sales reps to enter their reports.

Leaders not listening can have devastating results. This can put companies out of business.

When leaders are blindsided, often their team is left wondering how they were unaware. As a leader, make sure you listen, and listen hard. To your business. To your customers. And especially to your employees.

Question: Are the leaders in your organization good listeners? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    Craig, these are some great reminders.  As a leader in my company, I know how easy it can be to be stuck in meetings and offices where we miss out on the “vibe” of our employees.  Taking time to listen is so important.  We’ve tried to do this through a few deliberate methods:  one-on-one meetings, employee feedback forums, town hall meetings, etc.  One of the best ways to listen is to just be there day in and day out with our team members.

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      I totally agree with your last sentence. Being there day in and day out with your members is Key. Just being in the moment in a conversation really helps too. Sometimes our heads get stuck in the next thing that we have to do and while we seem present, the person who is talking knows that we really aren’t. There’s nothing worse then knowing that someone isn’t really listening to you or is preoccupied with other things. It conveys a message that you’re not important enough to be given full attention, and that is where dissension between people can begin.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      @jonstolpe:disqus Yes! “Being there” and truly being present is one of best ways for leaders to be know what is going on with the people.

    • http://robsorbo.com/ Rob Sorbo

      Great point. I have to admit–I get pretty disheartened when I walk to my car at the end of the day and I see that the executive parking area is already empty. I realize that many of the leaders are on the road or have already put in 60+ hour weeks, but it makes it feel like the leaders don’t have to put in the same work I do.

  • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

    Great post Craig! By nature, I’m a problem-solver so the following statement caught my attention – “Good leaders resist the urge to immediately solve every problem and instead simply listen to what they are hearing”.

    When I noticed I was not getting the full story, I also developed more effective one-on-one meetings – here how I did it – http://www.michaelnichols.org/one-on-one-meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to listen more.

    If you want to help people, you must listen all long as you possibly can before responding.

    Thanks so much for the reminders!

    • http://robsorbo.com/ Rob Sorbo

      I’m the same way. This gets me in trouble over and over again in my marriage–my wife tells me things that frustrate her because she just wants to get them out, but I go into problem-solving mode and give her solutions. In the end I have a frustrated and angry wife and neither of us don’t understand how the other one could be so clueless.

      • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

        Been there done that! I’ve had to learn to ask my wife – Am I just listening or is this something you’d like for me to fix?

        • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

          I understand how that works in concept, but I haven’t quite been able to apply it to our daily discussions yet. I’m getting there!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      That’s the sentence I connected with most, Michael. I’m too quick to solve and need to slow down and listen more. Often I assume what someone most needs is a solution, when in actuality they may just need to be heard.

      • http://www.michaelnichols.org/about Michael Nichols

        I agree. I’ve found the same to be true!

  • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

    Great post Craig. I think one reason why some leaders fail to receive the truth is the corporate chain of command. There are many people who discover ideas each day to help their company save money and become successful. However, if middle management between the leader and the subordinate perceives the idea as threatening to their own livelihood, the ideas may be shelved and never reach the top. Since supporting a family is more important than voicing an opinion, these people simply stop talking and their ideas never reach fruition. 

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Steve, great point. Like your layers concept. 

      What I sometimes see is that leaders exercise “selective hearing” if it serves their personal interest. This can prevent those above them from hearing important messages. 

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      It seems like creating a safe environment is key here. Otherwise that honest communication won’t happen. Do you have any quick suggestions for that?

      • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

        Jessica referenced a WSJ article about CEOs, which indicated that their time is spent mostly in meetings making decisions. Moses had a similar problem with the Israelites. In Exodus 18, it mentions that Moses took his seat each day to “hear the people’s disputes against each other. They waited before him from morning till evening.” When is father-in-law Jethro witnessed what was happening, he counseled Moses to select capable and honest people to solve the people’s common disputes while he tackles the big ones. Moses did what Jethro suggested. which allowed Moses to “endure the pressures.”

        Similarly, CEOs should consider freeing up part of their time by delegating some of their meetings to trusted and capable leaders who could be trusted to make the right decisions. With a few hours of free time cleared in their schedule, they could schedule regular “town hall” meetings with various departments in their organizations to hear and understand what’s going on. 

        For example, the Customer Service department or Help Desk intimately knows the problems with their company’s products. The CEO could schedule time with these people to understand current issues or even take a few customer calls to hear what the customer has to say. He/she could have their own “Undercover Boss” experience and hear firsthand about issues within the company and develop a plan of action. This first-hand information could trump some of those A3 reports and provide a real-world perspective on current issues within the company. 

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    Good stuff, Craig.
    You’ve mentioned skills for leaders to listen and find problems – but I think the same also applies to things that *are* working. It’s as much about leveraging strengths as it is correcting weaknesses. This also gives the CEO a chance to publicly praise people who are working hard and excelling – which goes a long way in employee motivation.

    What are your opinions about something like anonymous questionnaires or comment forms filled out by employees?

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      @LorenPinilis:disqus Thanks! Good to see you over here, too! :)

      I am sure there are *many* opinions on that question. Anonymous surveys can be powerful. But, they can also drive a lot of antagonism that wouldn’t otherwise come out.

      I prefer to have open discourse and dialogue with team members. If you are truly listening… you team should be able to be heard. 

      • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

        That seems wise. Also, after I thought more about it, face to face dialogue gives the leaders the chance to ask follow-up questions and really understand the crux of the issue – rather than possibly scratching their heads wondering what an employee meant on an anonymous questionnaire.

        • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

          I hate to keep talking about my own series (really!), but I am including the face-to-face as part of the process as well.  It is not a matter of which is better, but there is an effective way to use both to get the clearest picture.  

          I got this advice right here on this blog.  Take a look at the comments on both Tim Peters’ post here and Michael’s post here.  Several people chimed in about their experiences with both methods.

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      I have had the same question, Loren.  During a conversation with Jim Reese (CEO, Atlanta Mission), he gave me a resource for this kind of survey. 

      The company is called Best Christian Workplaces Institute and they specialize in employee engagement surveys.  I talked to the CEO, Al Lopus, and he answered all of my questions about the best way to do this.  There are certainly some challenges when attempting this, as Craig mentioned, but they seem to have a very successful process.

      I will be including this information in one of my posts in the new series I started yesterday on creating employee engagement.  Here is the link…


  • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

    This is really good follow up material to a couple of recent posts, one by Tim Peters –   A Leader People Want To Follow-  and the other by Michael – Changing Org. Culture.  In both, I learned a lot about listening to the employees, either to assess the culture or to show them I care.

    This post gives some really good practical steps to doing this.  Some of this I am already doing, but some of it is new.  I will certainly try it!

    As a result of these recent posts, I started a series on my blog about creating employee engagement by using some of these techniques (as well as some from Jim Reese and Andy Stanley).

    Here is my first post in the series…


    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Thanks for sharing, Chris!

      Will take a look…

  • http://www.thegeezergadgetguy.com/ Thad Puckett

    There is so much in your post that is spot on.  Leaders do get feedback, but it is not always timely and it is likely affected by everything you wrote about. 

    One thing I believe every leaders should seek is not simply to listen; they should seek truth tellers.  People who will tell them the truth about their leadership.

    Because the stakes are always higher when a senior leader doesn’t listen (for the leader and the organization).

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Thad, like this thought.

      Leaders who listen, know that an honest employee who gives true constructive feedback is extremely valuable.

    • Jim Martin

      Thad, you are right.  Now only is listening a valuable practice but seeking out people who will tell the truth.  (And I would add, affirming those who dare to tell the truth.)

    • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

      Thad, I totally agree. Sometimes leaders surround themselves with “Yes” men instead of men who question their judgment and help them see perspectives that are otherwise invisible to them. 

      In her book entitled “A Team of Rivals,” Doris Goodwin describes how Abraham Lincoln appointed the men who formed his cabinet. All of them didn’t approve of Lincoln’s education or upbringing, and most of them hated Lincoln. However, Lincoln recognized that these men were the best choices for his cabinet because of their skills and abilities. Over time, these men came to respect and admire Lincoln.

      I think we need leaders who have the fortitude to surround themselves with people who challenge their thinking with opposing viewpoints. This process will help leaders see problems from different perspectives and make the right choices. 

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    My father, the former Master of the Sword at West Point, used to tell me “God gave you two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.”  For leaders, we must listen until it hurts sometimes.  

    It can be like like questioning a teenager about their day when you ask for feedback from an unsuspecting employee.  Leaders must give this time to become part of the culture of the company.  Culture takes time to shift.  If this is a new habit, we must stick to it if we are really committed to getting honest comments from out people.

    Finally, remember that no matter how difficult the comments are to hear, the fact someone is sharing them means they actually care about their workplace and doing their job well.  Apathy is much  worse than getting complaints.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      I’ve seen this proverb elsewhere on the blog. Maybe I should start paying attention to it! ;)

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Love that last thought!

      When things go quiet… there are even bigger problems afoot!

  • Anonymous

    All this talk about listening. Makes me stop and listen to what is being said.  Actively, aggressive listening is becoming part of me. Thanks Michael, thanks Craig! 

    • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

      I love the notion of aggressively listening. My old Worship Pastor would do that. I knew I had his full attention. It made me feel so cared for. He was aggressively listening to me and there with me in that moment.

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

      Scott … I think that’s an important distinction. Listening isn’t merely repeating back what someone said to you. It’s more, as you put it, aggressive than that. Listening is active.

      Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

      I’ve heard it said that the “L” in Love means “listen.” 

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Great post, Craig. Over the years I’ve seen different people get promoted to higher positions in the companies that I’ve worked for. In most cases, the first thing that happens is a wall goes up. Communication stops. It’s literally like  a physical fortress with guards at the door. The only time you’ll see this person again is at department meetings, where open communication is difficult.

    The good leaders break through this restriction. They walk the floors, as you say. They listen well. Their doors are open.

    One of the best leadership policies I’ve heard was from a management blogger friend of mine, Rosa Say. She implemented an open communication program called the Daily Five Minutes with her managers and staff… (http://goals4u.us/wOqZaI)

    “It is a simple habit: Each day, without fail, managers are to give five minutes of no-agenda time to at least one of their employees. They’d log the event in a simple checklist of names to ensure they didn’t miss anyone, and they’d speak to each employee in turn on a regular basis.”

    This ensures that managers know what is going on. This also works well for upper management as they are walking the floors… “Hey, do you have five minutes? How are things going in your department?”

    Keeping the communication lines open is the key to success. This is one simple way to implement it.

    • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

      I love this idea about randomly talking to employees to hear their concerns. I know of one company who did this, calling it “Managing by walking around.”

      • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

        Agreed! Sometimes you can learn more about your business and employees by a few minutes of walking around than by meeting-after-meeting.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      @johnrichardson:disqus Great tip and strategy!

      And thanks for the kind words about my blog! :)

    • Jim Martin

      John, I like this practice (the Daily Five Minutes).  Thanks for a new resource and the link as well.

  • http://John.do John Saddington

    love this perspective! love the idea of walking the halls.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Thx, John!

      BTW, think I am in your part of town today. Will wave if I see you. :)

      • http://John.do John Saddington

        what part? downtown? i’ll be up in cobb this afternoon.

        • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

          Yep, I am downtown today. (Usually in Alpharetta.)

          Will have to wave another day.

          Let’s catch up sometime!

  • Jessica

    This post reminded me of a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that analyzed what CEOs really do all day: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204642604577215013504567548.html

  • http://twitter.com/NewEnglandHiker Roy Wallen

    The first item reminds me of the principle of  “management by wandering around” that was promoted by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. 

  • http://twitter.com/Juanbg Juan

    Great post Mike,  It is about listening skills, we are so in a rush that we only want to tell our story, but never to hear other people stories.

  • http://profiles.google.com/michaelpaddy Michael Paddy

    Listening is tough to those to whom answers can appear to
    come easily. Like the child who is holding up their hand furiously in class
    hoping to be asked the question they absolutely know the answer…it frustrates
    those around who cannot see, think, and act so clearly and decisive. To listen
    well…is a gift to those who follow

    • Jim Martin

      Michael,  you are right.  “To listen well …is a gift to those who follow.”  I like this.

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    Great post. It’s a good question to think about. I believe that most leaders in my church are listening. I have a great church filled with great leaders. We can all improve however. This has encouraged me to listen harder to the people that come to me.

  • http://donkily.com/ Scott Reyes

    Listening without solving is the most difficult thing for me. I have to work to apply this everyday. What I have learned is that it is incredibly effective in communicating with customers as well. When we rush into solve a problem, the side that has the problem does not feel heard and can get a bad taster in their mouth from it.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    Great job on the guest post Craig. I think your final paragraph sums up the post with precision and accuracy.  Leaders listen.

  • http://levittmike.wordpress.com levittmike

    I have a meeting this afternoon with my team (first official meeting I’ve held with the team in months…Thanks to Al Pittampalli’s meeting book.)  The purpose of the meeting is to make sure everyone is up to speed on upcoming projects and timelines, and for me to listen to their ideas and suggestions on how I can serve them better.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Ah… love Al’s Book! (@pittampalli:disqus )

  • http://cherionethingivelearned.blogspot.com/ Cheri Gregory

    “Many leaders got where they are because they ‘got things done.’ They were problem-solvers. However, good leaders resist the urge to immediately solve every problem and instead simply listen to what they are hearing.”

    My principal has started asking a really valuable question when I go to him and start sharing my perspective:  “What would you like me to do with this information?”

    The first time he asked it, I was taken aback. I mean, wasn’t it obvious what I wanted and needed from him?  But in trying to answer his question, I discovered that even I was often unsure what I wanted from him. I now try to have an answer ready to this one question before I go speak with him, so that he knows how to listen and I know how to selectively share.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Cheri… that is a great question. One to make both sides of the conversation think long and hard.  

    • Jim Martin

      This is a great question, Cheri.  This is a valuable question which I need to ask and answer at times.

  • http://www.eselfemploymentideas.net/ Bob

    This is a simple, but greatly insightful post!  I’ve personally witnessed this phenomenon on several occasions.  Unfortunately, I believe that often times, larger corporations seem to have this “problem solver” mentality built into their culture.  

    This often leaves employees feeling less than adequate since the “boss” only hears about half of what they say and often takes action in the wrong place or not at all.

    I truly believe that each of us can change our leadership potential, but at the end of the day, the culture of the company is set at the top.  If your “top” is not humble enough to listen and learn, then it may be time to find a new place to lead from?

    • Jim Martin

      Bob, today a friend of mine told me about a company where the major problem (according to my friend) is the corporate culture.  The problem is with the leaders.

  • http://www.jeubfamily.com/ Chris Jeub

    I chuckled at the intro paragraph. I used to say, “The closer you get to the top, the thinner the air.”

    • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise


  • http://justin.am/ Justin Wise

    Craig … Always enjoy what you have to say. Thanks for lending your voice to the community here at MH.com!

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      @JustinWise:disqus Thanks for the kind words! Appreciate the opportunity to share with the community. :)

  • http://www.thenancyway.com/ Nancy Roe

    Craig, thanks for the great thought-provoking tips!  I worked for a company where the lower tier employees were scared of the president.  If an employee complained or offered comments, it meant they were uncooperative and unhappy.  If the president would have taken the employees comments and discussed them with senior management, the morale of the company would have been better. Instead, he took every comment as a personal attack.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Nancy, this is an interesting (and tough) situation to discuss.

      Whenever employees are afraid of leadership… you are going to have bosses that don’t get the straight scoop. This can be detrimental to the business, and sometimes just plain dangerous.

    • Jim Martin

      I know of a situation where several people wanted to ask a manger some clarifying questions regarding a practice of the company.  After several questions were asked, his response was “Why is everybody against me?”  He took this as a personal attack.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I’ve worked in a factory where morale was pretty low. Lots of rumors flew about the health of the company (or at least the health of the particular factory). Lots of complaints about the engineering of the product. Management, at best, came across as indifferent. Walking the floor, listening to those assembling the product, etc., would have improved the overall mood and effectiveness of the company’s workforce.

    Craig, your advice is sound and practical. Good stuff.

    • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

      I would be interested to see how these principles would be applied at a plant like you described. I can imagine that applying these principles in a place where morale is low would be seen as “micro managing” or “management getting in our business.”

      • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

        @RobaSorbo:disqus That is an interesting take. I agree that managers “getting into” the workers’ area… would appear as micromanagement.

        One of the important angles is to “just listen.” If the managers simply try to immediately solve the workers job, or downplay their issues… they will probably meet resistance.

        • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

          I only say that because of the low morale situation (I’ve been there–every move by management gets blown out of proportion).

          I think once people realize that the managers are trying to act on their behalf (and LISTEN!!), then things would turn around quickly.

          • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

            Being heard and taken seriously does leave a positive impression. Then it becomes more than managerial intervention. If the labor force on the floor feels empowered, then morale goes up.

        • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

           I agree with you, Craig. If management comes down to just tout the latest ideas, then it’s seen as micromanaging. On the other hand, if management walks the floor to listen, if they do it consistently, if the listening on the floor results in actual change, then morale, I believe, would rise. Being heard isn’t enough. Being heard then seeing changes will affect a positive response.

          • http://cherionethingivelearned.blogspot.com/ Cheri Gregory

            You’re so right that “being heard isn’t enough.”

            I’d rather be completely ignored than be “heard” and then ignored!

          • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

             I had to think that through before I came to how I’d react to the two responses.

            Ignored entirely: shriveling and fuming

            Noticed then ignored: humiliated and crushed

            Yep, I agree with you, Cheri, about the two.

    • Jim Martin

      I can’t think of anything more exasperating for a group of people whose morale is low, than to have managers who are indifferent to them.    Not good.  

      • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

         I am reminded of Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus. “I would rather you be hot or cold …” As someone once said, “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.”

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    I have been truly blessed with great leaders who listen. I am always encouraged to bring concerns or needs to the elders. They listen as I explain myself or a situation. They ask questions and then we are able to talk together. They also check up with me regularly. It is a great feeling to know that the leaders genuinely care. I try to pass that along to my volunteers and parents of the teens also.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      This is incredibly encouraging, Brandon. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the system working fom the top down.

  • http://melissaaoconnor.wordpress.com/ Melissa O’Connor

    I was president of my sorority, which is like being CEO of a 100 person organization. I found that by listening I was not only able to be a better leader, but it empowered those I led and created a mutual respect between chapter members and myself. 

    • Jim Martin

      Thanks Melissa!  Sounds like you learned at a young age what it took others of us much longer to learn.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Great place to learn leadership! :)

  • http://www.singlemomweekly.com/ April Storm

    It always comes back to basics:  Effective Communication.  There’s just not enough of it in corporate America

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      True, true. :)

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Painfully true!

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    I think one thing worth adding to the aspect of listening is choosing the right medium. I have led in situations where the people were very unresponsive to the modes of communication that I chose. E-mailing people who don’t check their e-mail or calling people who don’t answer their phone are ineffective. A leader who wants/needs response from people must be intentional about communicating in a way that people will respond to. In my situation (I worked at a college), I stopped calling and e-mailing students, and started using Facebook messages–it worked!

    • Jim Martin

      Rob, you make such an important point.  Using a medium for communication that the people don’t use only leads to frustration.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Love this thought!

      Great point. If you are using the wrong medium, you are bound to have breakdowns in communication.

  • Jaraker

    Walking the office is one of the best ways to lead. I have difficulty remembering #2 & #5 – Don’t solve problems and ask questions. Thanks for the reminders.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      You’re right. Having my bosses mingle and interact with me in the office makes a huge difference in how I feel in regards to them. It can make you feel important.

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    The company that I contract with needs to read this post, they do not do any of these things!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Maybe you could anonymously forward it to them?

      • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

        Tried that Joe and it didn’t go so smooth

        • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

          From my experience, anonymous feedback is not as effective.

          Leaders (especially ineffective ones) will downplay it.

          And very seldom is anonymous feedback truly anonymous.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewstark andrewstark

    This is so true in large companies, and I think it’s the parasite middle managers who don’t want to upset anyone that are causing this. It’s refreshing to hear that these sort of messages are starting to be heard, and if anyone from McKinsey  is reading this you need to tell the senior leaders to do something like this rather than just cutting costs and reducing headcount or bringing out more initiatives designed to inspire and innovate the workforce.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Initiatives don’t inspire people. People inspire people.

      • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

        Yes! and yes! :)

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    Some leaders I know are great listeners and some are not. Motivation flows much easier when a leader is a good listener. There’s less frustration too. Yet, I also want a leader who knows when to talk too. After he/she hears me out, I want input, guidance, direction, encouragement, etc. There needs to be a balance.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Great point, Kari.  After listening, we need our leaders to act!

      • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

        Great points @kscare:disqus , without follow-up, listening will seem false.

        There needs to be action, too! 

  • http://www.irunurun.com/blog/ Travis Dommert

    This reminds me of the story in Outliers about the Korean Air tragedy.  Instead of advising the pilot to change course, the respectful (fearful) co-pilot says something almost completely innocuous like “Captain, the weather radar has helped us a lot.”

    What he is really saying is, “Captain, for the sake of every life on board this plane…LOOK AT THE RADAR NOW!!”  …but the tired captain wasn’t listening so intently as to actually ponder why the co-pilot wanted to discuss the benefits of radar…he barely replied.  One minute later they were dead.

    The root of this issue was cultural, but no less a heads up to leaders to be aware of the barriers to truth that come with the job.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      That is a crazy story Travis.  Yet it is one that we can see repeated in large businesses everyday. The leaders are too focused on the wrong aspects of the business they crash and burn.

    • Jim Martin

      Travis, this story is sobering!  A reminder to leaders that it may be to our detriment if those who have the capacity to tell the truth do not feel free to do so.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    Honestly, I don’t feel that they are. Or maybe they’re just not good communicators. It seems messages get passed between employees rather than from the boss to employees. It gets confusing when you’re getting directions and plans from another employee when you have heard nothing from the boss.

  • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

    Excellent post, Craig!  Each point is really a critical leadership lesson.   As I read this, I put a face to each point with leaders in my life who have done these things well and also those who have done them poorly.  

    As I rate myself against these standards, unfortunately, I’ve  done several of these poorly.  However, it’s amazing how forgiving people are when you start leading well in these areas, no matter how poorly you have done in the past!

    Thanks for contributing this article!

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I was rating myself as I read too! Much room for growth, and Craig has done a great job outlining it for us. And I’m banking on grace. :)

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Thanks, John.

      And I agree that when leaders “listen,” it can go a long way in repairing previous leadership reputations.

  • http://KordenbrockChristianCounseling.com/ Tawnya Kordenbrock

    Craig, your article very much reminds me of Dave Ramsey’s
    philosophy in his book EntreLeadership. In it, he talks about management
    by walking around. He also emphasizes getting better acquainted with your
    employees, not only to keep in touch with what is going on, but also to improve
    the morale of your organization.


    As a mental health counselor, I totally agree with your
    statement about asking questions. Without doing so, many people will stop with
    a simple statement. If we question them further, we can gain far more
    information than we ever imagined.


    I would suggest, however, that you not begin a question with
    the word “why.” Asking “why” can feel intimidating and can cause people to
    become defensive. Instead, begin with something like, “Tell me more about your
    interest in this topic.” Or, you could say, “Help me understand your concern.”
    This style will help them feel more at ease with opening up.

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      @9eb28be950b7eaf34c1e7c44404f1fcd:disqus Thanks! 

      Without going to far, I think that “walking” is only part one. As someone else posted, leaders walking around can make people nervous.

      It is the “listening” that is important. That is was makes people feel valued and heard. 

      I like your suggested question openings… “Tell me about…” is one of my favorites. :)

  • http://www.eoscarolinas.com/ Brent Sprinkle

    Listen, Don’t Solve:  Ouch! – this is difficult, it’s just so…natural for most leaders to solve – it’s what they do. A slightly tuned approach might be – Listen… then Coach someone else how to solve. This not only reinforces this listening aspect, but when you have to teach or coach, you are more apt to present a complete picture, the whole rationale, the process behind your thoughts. As a result, you have a stronger organization, more capable of solving problems on their own which gives you time to do more of what you are great at.

    A great active listening technique (likely mentioned already) – Take Notes. A very, non-verbal way, to show you are listening, that you believe there’s value in what’s being said, and that you are – listening with the intent to learn.

    “You Can’t Learn Anything with Your Mouth Open”  Helen Sprinkle (my mom)

  • Lissa_bb

    Number one rule for being a good listener:  shut the heck up!! I have a boss who calls meetings so he can “get our input” and then he spends 20 minutes talking to the point where everybody else has gone boss-deaf and fallen asleep. He’s usually told us what he wants to hear, so who’s going to speak up after that?

  • http://www.gailsangle.com Gail

    If you want to hear your staff go and eat lunch with them regularly. Eat in their lunch room, sit with them, do it every week so it’s not weird and their not on their best behaviour. Do this for a while and you’ll be amazed by what people will say to you. Our current COO and former CEO were very good at being “one of the gang” over lunch and listening to our stories and through it our concerns. It also made them much more approachable when an issue was big enough to take to them than executives who you never see.

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      That is great advice…thanks for sharing

      Chris Patton

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    It’s true Craig! It’s a blessing to have a listening boss in the organization. I see leaders often confusing the gesture of listening with submission. Hence, the resultant management style is always the top-down approach and not the other way round. Also, I feel that insecure leaders find it hard to listen.

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  • aeric bass

    You share nice information about leaders to listen harder. I like this useful information. You allot best way of your post.

    Leadership skills

  • http://www.dental-management.net/ DentalAccountant

    This is a helpful reminders to all leaders. The work of a leaders is not only making a command but he  should also learn how to listen, right? I agree that leaders who do not know how listen can have devastating result.

  • http://LeadershipPerformanceTips.com/ Rob Moore

    Great post! I definitely agree with the first statement made and you gave some great tips on how to change that. From my experiences, I have seen this happen because of 2 main things. One is the fact that the people don’t think that what they have to say matters and might possibly go in one ear and right out of the other. Two is that they may feel intimidated by other managers or supervisors within the organization. Thanks for your insights!

  • janeey davis

    You have done great five ways for leaders to listen harder. I absolutely agree with all ways. I really appreciate your post about leaders  to listen harder. indesign training

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  • http://twitter.com/ThomasTJTrent Thomas (TJ) Trent

    As GEN Colin Powell said “Walk slowly through the crowd.”

    Great post Craig.

  • Sunaina

    Great Article and very sound advice

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  • Dick Rochester

    Great advice. It applies to followers, as well as leaders.