The Point: I’ve seen a lot of leaders come, and I’m certain I’ll see a lot go in the future. But what is it about the “best” leaders that we can share with you? The “Best” Leaders one way or the other always have maximum impact on their organizations, their industries, and the world! The following seven (7) part series was developed from coaching conversations at Tip of the Spear and plays an integral part in our Business Advisory Services (Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, and Communication Skills Training for Leaders Series). In Step 1 of 7 for Maximum Impact Leadership we looked at your ability to ask questions. Here in Step 2 of 7, we’ll take a look at your ability to secure feedback from those questions by listening. I hope that you’re able to implement these seven (7) “best” practices for maximum impact leadership… Enjoy!
Refresh of Maximum Impact Leadership Step 1: Ask
Recall that in Step 1 of 7 of developing your maximum impact leadership, you are posed with the problem/opportunity of becoming the “best” leader possible. You were provided with a few questions to ask regarding how your stakeholders (superiors, subordinates, and peers) perceived you to be. Perhaps I didn’t mention it then, but I will now that asking for stakeholder feedback can be quite difficult for some leaders.
The difficulties associated with asking for feedback run the gambit, but let’s focus on just two. First, you are opening yourself up to their perceptions. Perceptions that could be accurate. Perceptions that could be inaccurate. The accurate/inaccurate dilemma comes from your perception of your own leadership style and the story being relayed to you by your stakeholder. The second difficult moment stems from your ability to separate feedback from your own ego/emotions/pride. No doubt that if the feedback is positive, it will resonate with you. Also, and perhaps to your detriment as a leader, if the feedback is negative it won’t necessary be seen in the same leadership development light. Regardless… You asked for it and they are telling you.
Successful Listening Habits?
So you ask for your stakeholders input, and they are telling you. What’s the last thing that you should do first? Odds are, you’re going to want to jump into the conversation and give your opinion/perspective. Rather than just listen to the response, you’ll attempt to justify why you behaved the way you did (Think of it as a way of “framing” your conversation).
It’s in these “framing” moments that you come off as anything but a leader. Your responses tend to hint at defensiveness (a posture that’s never good for a leader!) Having conducted over 100+ communication skills training for leaders programs, I can’t count the number of times defensiveness came off as a positive experience for all considered parties (Read that as there simply are too many!) How many times have you had a conversation with someone that went something like “You know we’re going to promote you because when you speak to your stakeholders, your defensiveness really opens the doors to future possibilities!” or “That excuse you gave really helped us shift our paradigm. Where we once were uneducated/uncertain, we now know exactly where you’re coming from!”
Ask… Stop… Breath… Listen!
Now when I coach leaders in receiving feedback, any of the above listening habits can, and typically do occur. However the key to effective listening is to do just that, listen.
The act of listening doesn’t mean hear a little bit, or stop listening while someone else is speaking with you to formulate your response once they take a breath. The goal is to be fully present, in the moment with awareness, and take the feedback in.
I often recommend to the leaders that I work with that they ask the question, stop, take a breath, and listen to the stakeholders feedback.
Best Leadership Listening Habits
If the feedback received is too topical or 30,000 foot elevation high, asking a follow up question to “drill down” to treetop level (or even better yet dirt) can provide you with more actionable feedback.
Another active listening habit that I share is to smile. It takes less effort/energy/muscle coordination for you to share a smile as opposed to a frown. The last thing you want to share is an upside-down smile with a stakeholder that you just asked to provide you feedback to. Smiling also sets a positive-tone to the atmosphere.
Maintaining eye contact is a great way to show that you’re listening. However, remember to break up your eye contact with periodic blinking or directing your attention elsewhere in the room. This will prevent the tense/creepy situation of staring that can/will derail the maximum impact leadership habit.
Periodically I get a question from a communication skills training for leaders participant regarding if it’s appropriate to take notes during such conversations. The answer is somewhat obvious, but requires the proper setup. If you truly want to recall later what is being shared, show that what the stakeholder is saying is of value, then leaders should take notes. However, first and foremost you should setup the note-taking activity by saying something like “What you’re saying is very important to me. I’m going to take a few notes while we speak, ok?”
The last active listening habit I’ll share is to nod your head periodically while feedback is being provided. Nodding shows that you are actively listening to the stakeholder. I’m certain that you’ve had the unfortunate situation of having someone listen to you with a blank stare on their face. No doubt it made you wonder if they even heard you, and more importantly if they truly value your input (They probably are looking to check some “boxes” in their leadership development program, right? Nice job Chief Human Resources Officer!)
So to start on our journey of maximum impact leadership, we fixed your cross hairs on being the best leader ever. Remember, if you ask they will tell you! The second step is to listen to what is being said. Active listening should be employed to set the right atmosphere, get more feedback through drill down questions, and reflecting that you really are listening.